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Coronavirus: Co Down shielding woman urges authorities to tackle Covid-19 clusters after outbreak

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Michaela Hollywood

Michaela Hollywood

Freddie Parkinson

Michaela Hollywood

A Co Down shielder has urged authorities to pinpoint Covid-19 clusters after she found out about an outbreak near her home via rumour.

On Tuesday South Down MLA Colin McGrath confirmed there had been 11 cases identified in Crossgar and Ballynahinch.

Social media had lit up with speculation of a local spike after a Crossgar cafe closed to sit-in customers, citing “an outbreak in our area”.

In a statement, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said it had not identified “any current clusters other than household related infections” in Newry, Mourne and Down.

Michaela Hollywood, who is particularly vulnerable as a ventilator user, said she was “flying blind”, going on hearsay from neighbours when she should have been told directly.

She lives just half a mile from Crossgar township.

Monday's figures from the PHA revealed Newry Mourne & Down was the only local government area in Northern Ireland where the number of people who tested positive had increased.

The specific locations of the outbreaks were only confirmed after Mr McGrath spoke with the Health Minister.

Ms Hollywood said she was “petrified” on hearing from a neighbour there could be local cases, and has gone into “double lockdown” to protect herself.

She said: “I need reliable, detailed information, not scraps.”

“I think they’re forgetting that lives like mine are at stake. I would happily sign a non-disclosure agreement to get information which could protect me and my family from this.”

The PHA said it was “aware of media speculation regarding an alleged cluster” but would not comment on “individual cases” in case people were identified, or deterred from getting tested.

In a statement, the agency said: “The Contact Tracing process will identify any potential links between positive cases both within and outside households.

“With some ongoing community transmission of COVID-19, it is expected that there will be variation in the number of cases detected across geographical areas, and with small numbers of cases, we must be cautious about the significance of these variations.

“We will not comment on individual cases as this could lead to people being identified and deter others with symptoms coming forward to be tested. We would ask everyone to be mindful of this risk.”

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Colin McGrath

Colin McGrath

Colin McGrath

In a post to social media SDLP MLA Mr McGrath said all 11 people “impacted” had been contacted.

He said: “Contact Tracing has been implemented [which] should control the outbreak. Please remember to stay safe, wash hands and socially distance.

“Outbreaks will happen and we will get through this together.”

Sinn Fein’s South Down MLA Emma Rogan said there had been “considerable concern” locally.

She added: “Rumour and misinformation are not helpful so the PHA needs to keep the local community updated on what is happening.

In an emergency meeting on Tuesday morning Rowallane councillors agreed to call on Robin Swann and the PHA for positive cases to be broken down by District Electoral Area – of which there are seven within NM&D.

Currently cases are only broken down by local government area.

In a joint statement, councillors said they had met to : “Provide some clarity on rumours circulating about the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in the area and formulate a plan to ensure timely and accurate information is disseminated to residents to protect themselves and loved ones.

“Councillors are concerned that local residents are feeling anxious and consequently businesses are being affected by erroneous information being circulated and we want to do our best to put people’s minds at ease whilst ensuring safety for all.”

Belfast Telegraph