Northern Ireland's most senior doctor has said he believes infected staff were more likely to have caused Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes than the admission of new residents during the pandemic.
The chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, was asked to give a guarantee that the controversial practice of admitting new residents to care homes had not resulted in other residents falling ill with the deadly Covid-19 virus at yesterday's daily briefing.
He said: "It is difficult to answer with any degree of certainty but my personal view - again we would need to look in some detail - is the more likely route of infection into care homes is from the community.
"We know that the movement of staff in and out of the care home sector, no matter how committed and dedicated staff are to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and everything else, infection prevention and control, this is a highly transmissible virus.
"The enemy here is the virus.
"The more likely route of infection into care homes is undoubtedly from the community introducing the infection into care homes. Don't forget these individuals in care homes are the most vulnerable in our society, very frail, often with severe underlying health problems and they require day and daily assistance with the activities of daily life, the things that you and I take for granted.
"And that requires very close, very personal care and support - and with that comes risk.
"It's impossible to social distance in a care home and provide the level of care and support that the individuals there require."
Dr McBride's position on the matter is at odds with an expert from the London School of Economics who has carried out research into Covid-19 care home responses around the world and who said that care home deaths were not inevitable.