As a nation, we are slowly and steadily crushing the third wave of Covid-19. Some counties and local areas, however, are doing better than others, begging the question is it time to consider a more local or regional response to Covid-19?The concept is not a new one and has been mooted by public health doctors and experts over the past year as a better way to manage outbreaks and contain viral spread at ground level.Nationally, the number of new daily cases has fallen significantly from a peak of more than 8,000 on one day in January but remains stubbornly high at about 550 as we head into week 12 of level 5 restrictions.
Earlier predictions that case numbers could fall to 200-400 a day by the end of February have not transpired.
At the current rate of decline, the entire country could stay in lockdown for several weeks and months to come.
There is more hope, however, when you drill down to county or local electoral area level. While viral hotspots remain, some parts of the country have managed to crush Covid-19 to become almost virus-free.
Counties with highest and lowest Covid-19 infection rates.
As of this week, Leitrim has the lowest infection rate nationally, at 31.2 cases per 100,000 population. Less than 750 cases have been detected in the rural county since the pandemic struck a year ago.
That compares to almost 79,000 cases in Dublin, which continues to have one of the highest infection rates nationally at 223.4 cases per 100,000 population.
Other counties faring well include Kilkenny, Cork and Kerry, which all have infection rates of fewer than 55 cases per 100,000 population as of this week.
Co Longford has the highest infection rate nationally at 352.3 cases per 100,000 population, followed by Offaly, Kildare, and Dublin.
Local electoral area
The Covid picture, however, shifts even more at local electoral area level.
The latest LEA data (March 8) shows pockets of infection in urban centres like Dublin and Limerick and rural towns, such as, Longford, Ballymahon, Tullamore, and Birr, while more rural areas, such as Macroom in Cork and Lismore in Waterford, were almost virus-free (fewer than five cases in previous two weeks).
Parts of Cork and Kerry are also moving closer to virus-free status, with Listowel, Bantry, Skibbereen, and Kanturk having infection rates of between 15 and 30 cases per 100,000 population.
Given the significant variation in infection levels countrywide, is it time for the Government and health officials to consider decentralising the Covid-19 response? To move away from a national lockdown to more localised strategies to manage current levels of disease?
So far, the signals from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) have been cautious that we cannot afford to let our guard down or to reopen the economy yet.
Nphet may have a point. We are dealing with a new, more infectious and more deadly B117 variant and will have to work harder to crush it.
At the same time, we have been through one of the longest and most stringent lockdowns seen around the world.
The Covid picture suggests the time may be right to review the current exit strategy and consider the possibility of a more local or regional response rather than locking down the entire country and economy.