Ireland’s health minister has said the country must “hone in further” on residential care facilities where Covid-19 continues to spread.
Staff and residents in all long-term residential care settings in the Republic are to be prioritised for testing in the coming 10 days amid ongoing concern about infection clusters.
A survey of mortality rates among residents in the facilities, which include nursing homes and mental health and disability services, is to be conducted this weekend to give health authorities a fuller picture of Covid-19’s impact.
Deaths connected to residential care facilities account for more than half of all Covid-19 deaths reported to date.
#Covid19 - a few thoughts. During a global pandemic, speed must always trump perfection when it comes to making decisions. You listen to public health experts, heed their advice and act quickly on their recommendations. That has been & remains at the core of our national effort— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) April 18, 2020
On Saturday, there were a further 41 coronavirus-linked deaths reported in Ireland, bringing the total to 571.
The Department of Health also reported 778 newly-confirmed cases, bringing the total number since the outbreak began to 14,758.
Thirty-five of those who died lived in the east of the country, while two people were in the north west and four in the west of the country.
The deaths included 23 females and 18 males, and the median age of today’s reported deaths was 83.
Recent data shows that Dublin has the highest number of cases at 6,934 – 50% of all cases – followed by Cork with 979 cases.
Health Minister Simon Harris said on Twitter that “lots of efforts” have been undertaken in residential facilities to slow the spread of the virus.
He added: “Sadly, we have seen the world over similar challenges in this area. But that is never a reason to give up or to not try everything humanely possible.
“So now as we get the virus into a better place overall, we must hone in further on residential places where it continues to spread.
“We will never give up and we will never stop working to save lives – every life, because every life matters.”
Mr Harris also said that during a global pandemic, “speed must always trump perfection” when it comes to making decisions.
“You listen to public health experts, heed their advice and act quickly on their recommendations,” he wrote.
“That has been and remains at the core of our national effort.
“Issues that you would normally spend weeks and sometimes months pondering must get decided in real time because there is no time to waste.
“You can tweak and alter your response as you go but it’s always best to act quickly, WHO (World Health Organisation) is clear on that.
“Thanks to the incredible efforts of every person in this country, the leadership of our public health experts and work of our frontline staff, we are in a much better place than was envisaged.
“Thousands of lives have been saved and many ICU admissions avoided.
“The appalling and frightening direction we were heading in and which we saw in many other countries has been so far avoided thanks to your work and thanks to taking a public health led approach to this in unprecedented world crisis. But we have much more to do. Much more.
“Every day during this, you must get out of bed wanting to do more and try more measures.
“The day you stop doing that is the day you lose the battle. So now as we get the virus into a better place overall, we must hone in further on residential places where it continues to spread.
“So please keep at it and I certainly will. We won’t stop until the virus stops. Stay safe and thank you for everything. #StayHome.”
Chief medical officer (CMO) Tony Holohan has said daily fatality figures may include deaths that happened over a number of days, but were reported on the same day.
Professor Philip Nolan, who leads a team modelling Covid-19 trends in Ireland, said there are always delays between an event happening and its confirmation and reporting.
Prof Nolan, of NUI Maynooth, posted on Twitter on Saturday: “A lot of questions about data. CMO reports confirmed events, when all the checks and tests have been done.
“It is the most accurate and stable information available, the clearest picture we have at any point in time.
“However, there are always delays between the actual event and its confirmation and reporting, and these delays are variable, so epidemiologists look at the event date – the date of symptom onset, the date the test was taken, date of admission or date of death.
“We need to be very careful looking at these data.
“The inevitable delays in testing and reporting mean that numbers for recent days appear lower than they really are.”