Health bosses believe three people who have died with Covid-19 contracted the virus while being treated in Craigavon Area Hospital.
The Southern Trust is currently carrying out an investigation, including a genetic analysis of samples of the virus, to try and establish the source of three outbreaks in the hospital.
And the trust’s medical director, Dr Maria O’Kane, has warned further outbreaks in the hospital are possible.
Dr O’Kane was speaking after the trust announced two patients who had been receiving treatment on the hospital’s haematology ward died in the last two days after testing positive for the virus.
A third person, who had been treated on the same ward and was subsequently discharged, has also passed away after they were diagnosed with Covid-19.
However, the trust has stressed the virus was not the primary cause of death.
Dr O’Kane said the trust first became aware of an outbreak at the emergency department at the hospital on August 17 and the outbreak at the haematology ward came to light on August 24.
A further cluster in ward three south, a medical ward in the hospital, was identified in the last few days.
“We aren’t completely sure at this point in time [about the source of the clusters] because we actually think it has come from a variety of sources,” explained Dr O’Kane.
“We have been working with the Public Health Agency (PHA) and have undertaken genetic testing on the virus samples to try and ascertain the source and the spread.”
Asked if the patients who have died contracted the virus while being treated in Craigavon Area Hospital, Dr O’Kane continued: “We suspect they did.”
The senior medic said eight patients with Covid-19 remain in the hospital and the clusters have had a serious impact on the day-to-day running of the hospital.
One theatre list was cancelled as a result of the outbreak in the ED, which has since been brought under control, and Dr O’Kane said anyone who requires emergency medical attention should feel safe in attending the casualty unit.
While she said she is confident no further theatre lists will be cancelled in the coming weeks, she said the outbreaks are proving challenging in relation to staffing of wards.
There are currently 56 staff who are connected with clusters at Craigavon Area Hospital who are off self-isolating.
Other staff are also self-isolating as a result of family and social contacts.
In total, 14 patients connected to the haematology ward have tested positive, while 17 members of staff are off after testing positive.
There are 42 staff members who have been identified as potential contacts and are currently self-isolating.
The ward remains closed to new admissions.
In Ward 3 South, two members of staff and one patient have tested positive.
There are currently 14 staff members self-isolating.
Health Minister Robin Swann has expressed his distress at the news of the patients’ deaths.
“My deepest sympathies go to the families and friends of those who have passed away,” he said.
“The Southern Trust has made clear that a detailed investigation is ongoing following the clusters at the hospital.
This situation demands a thorough and expeditious investigation. Patients and bereaved families are entitled to answers.
“I will continue to closely monitor the management of these clusters and will be receiving updates from the trust.
“Today’s sad news underlines once again that we are in a public health emergency, fighting a virus that can be lethal.”