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Coronavirus battle is in our care homes as four in 10 deaths occur there


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Health officials are facing renewed pressure to act after it emerged that at least 40% of all Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland have happened in care homes - despite the fact care home residents make up less than 1% of the population. (John Stillwell/PA)

Health officials are facing renewed pressure to act after it emerged that at least 40% of all Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland have happened in care homes - despite the fact care home residents make up less than 1% of the population. (John Stillwell/PA)

Health officials are facing renewed pressure to act after it emerged that at least 40% of all Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland have happened in care homes - despite the fact care home residents make up less than 1% of the population. (John Stillwell/PA)

Health officials are facing renewed pressure to act after it emerged that at least 40% of all Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland have happened in care homes - despite the fact care home residents make up less than 1% of the population.

The true extent of the spread of the deadly virus through residential settings in Northern Ireland is likely to be much higher than official figures suggest, as they only reveal the number of people who die in care homes and do not state how many of the people who died in hospital contracted the virus in a care home.

Figures revealed yesterday by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show that 63 of the 109 Covid-19 deaths registered in Northern Ireland between April 18 and 24 occurred in care homes.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a daily record of the number of care home outbreaks has not been updated since Wednesday, when the total stood at 70.

This tally has risen steadily since the Health Minister Robin Swann, first revealed Covid-19 was known to be present in at least 20 care homes on April 7.

The latest figures have added further weight to concerns at an apparent lack of action by officials to protect care home residents - and come just days after a whistleblower revealed care home staff are having to split their time working between residents with the virus and those who are not unwell.

The care home manager said Covid-19 "has spread like wildfire" through a number of residential facilities in Northern Ireland due to a lack of safety checks and balances aimed at slowing the virus and keeping some of the most vulnerable people in society safe.

The First and Deputy First Ministers were pressed on the matter at yesterday's daily briefing, when Michelle O'Neill said "the battle is now in our care homes".

And last night, a spokesman from the Department of Health said a number of measures have been put in place to protect care home residents.

He said: "We have the most comprehensive programme of testing for new residents going into care homes across the UK.

"Large quantities of PPE have been flowing to the independent sector from trusts for a number of weeks now - around 2.5 million items per week, all provided for free. Significant numbers of trust staff are also working in care homes, reflecting the strong partnership we have, and we are constantly hearing positive feedback from care homes about the support they are being provided.

"We will continue to consider every possible measure to ensure care home staff and residents are safe. Earlier this week, a £6.5m package of additional support was announced for the care home sector.

"It has to be acknowledged that Covid-19 has been a serious threat to care homes across Europe, including in countries that have adopted very different policy responses to the virus."

However, Stormont's health committee chairman Colm Gildernew said the NISRA figures have demonstrated the "stark reality that care homes are facing the brunt of Covid-19".

Belfast Telegraph