Testing will begin on people living in nursing homes and residential settings who are not showing symptoms of Covid-19, the Health Minister has said.
New modelling revealed on Thursday night suggests Covid-19 has reached a plateau in Ireland and current restrictions are “successfully suppressing the disease”.
However, figures show more than half of all Covid-19-related deaths have occurred in nursing homes, with more than 150 clusters in those settings.
Simon Harris told RTE radio that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will meet on Friday to discuss measures being taken to tackle the spread in nursing homes and to review the State’s response to the emergency.
On @morningireland from @roinnslainte. We have made progress as a country but we need to redouble our efforts in residential settings. Thank you for all you are doing #COVID19ireland pic.twitter.com/JCvoVeGn1A— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) April 17, 2020
“We are making very good progress as a country but we need to redouble our efforts in relation to residential settings and sadly we know this vicious, dangerous virus is having a particularly devastating impact on older people with underlying health conditions.
“Today we are going to see a number of more measures taken, particularly an increase in extra testing in our residential settings.”
Mr Harris said older people sometimes do not show obvious symptoms such as a cough.
“We need to start testing asymptomatic people and the HSE today will start using the ambulance service to carry out more tests.”
Mr Harris said while the Irish people have done great work to flatten the curve, the lifting of restrictions after May 5 will only be done slowly and gradually.
“For every person infected in Ireland, they are now infecting less than one new person. That is incredible progress. When we started this journey – that figure was at 4.7 and every infected person was infecting five more people and then another five people.
“If we had not have introduced the measures we would have seen 800 people in ICU last night, 2,200 by next week and 1,700 people die in our country so we are saving lives.
“The lifting of restrictions is going to be complex, delicate and there is going to be a degree of trial and error. We will be grounded in everything we do by public health advice.
“It is clear from the model that if you just lift the restrictions, this curve will shoot right back up and we are not going to do that and erase the progress that people have made.
“We would like to put in place a gradual easing of some of the restrictions but I have to be blunt and honest with people – that does not mean going back to life as we knew it in the short term.
“It will involve social distancing and keeping some of the public health measures in place for a period of time.”
On Thursday, chairman of the NPHET Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Professor Philip Nolan, said we are “successfully suppressing” the spread of Covid-19 in Ireland.
“We now estimate our R0 (reproductive rate) to be between 0.7 and 1.0, which means current restrictions are successfully suppressing the disease.”
Professor Ruairi Brugha, Emeritus Professor at the Royal College of Surgeon’s Department of Public Health and Epidemiology, has said the “nest of infection” in nursing homes has “crept up on us”.
Prof Brugha told RTE Morning Ireland: “We were actually looking at three different epidemics going on.
“The epidemic in the community which is the one which we were looking at in terms of how we can relax measures, hopefully in May, that’s the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Then this much darker picture that’s emerged over the last 48 hours. The tragic picture of many very elderly people dying alone, and also a huge workload and stress on staff.
“This epidemic has sort of crept up on us partly because we’re reporting total numbers of cases, and total deaths and we haven’t, up to now, have been reporting cases by the settings in which they occur.
“The cluster of infections, which account for 2,000 or about 20% of all cases, had risen from less than 25% to more than 50% of clusters coming from nursing homes and residential institutions alone.
“We need to look at how staff are actually living outside of nursing homes. Are there any risks of bringing in infection? Good PPE will help reduce those risks and monitoring of everybody in terms of symptoms.”