Care home staff are working between healthy residents and people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, a whistleblower has revealed.
A care home manager has warned that the lives of thousands of residents across Northern Ireland are being put at risk due to the way the pandemic is being handled by officials.
His comments were on Wednesday night described as "seriously concerning" by Alliance Party health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw.
He has raised serious concerns over the practice of admitting people infected with Covid-19 to care homes, explaining that many facilities are unable to care for them in a safe way.
And he has also criticised the current testing regime, which sees people tested for Covid-19 48 hours before they are admitted to a care home.
"There's quite a bit of concern in care homes about what is going on," he said.
Once it is in a home, it isn't easy to keep it contained - I'm aware of homes where it's got in and swept through the home like wildfireWhistleblower
"If someone is tested in hospital 48 hours before being moved to a care home, that's a 48-hour window for them to become infected. Even if a person has the virus, they're going ahead and discharging the person into the home anyway.
"Once it is in a home, it isn't easy to keep it contained - I'm aware of homes where it's got in and swept through the home like wildfire. It's very hard, given staff numbers and financially, to be able to have staff dedicated to working solely with residents who've been diagnosed and not working with the other residents. That's especially the case if you maybe only have one resident with the virus.
"I know there are some homes that have units where they're able to keep residents with Covid-19 separate, but that isn't always the case.
"Of course, staff are wearing PPE but they're taking it off and then going in to see another resident without the virus."It's hard to say exactly how things are going to develop, but I think this is going to get an awful lot worse in terms of spread."
Official figures have suggested that the number of Covid-19 cases in care homes is beginning to soar. The virus was known to be present in 69 care homes on Tuesday - up by 245% in less than three weeks.
While the whistleblower does not think the new testing protocol goes far enough, he hit out at the previous policy that saw people admitted into care homes without being tested first.
"It seems to me that they were in such a blind panic to get people out of hospital that they didn't think about the impact on care homes," he said.
It is essential that health bosses provide more support to care homes, particularly in relation to staffing levels, he added.
Staff shortages were a recognised issue in the care home sector prior to the pandemic, and the coronavirus crisis has exacerbated the problem, with many homes increasingly reliant on agency staff to provide safe care.
Care homes have contracts to provide a service and they're doing the best they can, but they simply don't have the capability to respond in the way that is required during a pandemicWhistleblower
"This has problems because they're moving from home to home," he said.
"We can take their temperature, but we know people can have the virus and not have any symptoms.
"Care homes have contracts to provide a service and they're doing the best they can, but they simply don't have the capability to respond in the way that is required during a pandemic.
"At the moment, we're expecting them to be hospitals, which they aren't.
"They don't have the support of the medical teams that are in hospitals, the whole situation is ridiculous.
"We're hearing that our hospitals aren't at capacity, so why aren't we moving staff out of the hospitals to help in care homes?
"I'd like to see care home staff get a lot more support and recognition, they're putting their health at risk, they worry they could bring the virus home to their families, but most are on little more than minimum wage.
"It's especially hard for them when they care for someone for years and build up a relationship and then that person passes away.
"We have seen from other countries that older people are more at risk and we knew that if coronavirus gets into a care home, there would be serious issues."