The health service is to examine the issue of easing some visitor restrictions at nursing homes in Ireland, the minister for health has confirmed.
Simon Harris said the HSE is assessing whether they can allow visitors to meet members of their families outside.
However, he warned he did not want to raise any false hope, adding that visiting will not return to normal.
“I do want residents in nursing homes and their families to know that we’re looking at this and we’re hoping to be in a position to make progress,” he told the Dail.
On Tuesday the Oireachtas committee on Covid-19 heard a series of claims and counterclaims about the handling of the pandemic in Ireland’s nursing homes.
Mr Harris said that the Department of Health, HSE, HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority), nursing home operators and frontline staff have all worked “tirelessly” to help stem the spread of this virus.
“People will seek to apportion blame but we should not forget that the villain here is the virus,” Mr Harris added.
“As we know we have experienced significant numbers of outbreaks in nursing homes, and today I can confirm that outbreaks have been stemmed in 29 of those.
“This means that there have been new cases of Covid-19 in over 28 days in those clusters.
“I want to thank nursing home owners and staff for their heroic efforts in the face of this great challenge.
“I also am pleased to see that there hasn’t been a new outbreak in a nursing home in over a week.”
Fianna Fail’s Stephen Donnelly said that correspondence between Nursing Homes Ireland (NIH) and the Department of Health “painted a very dark picture”.
Mr Donnelly raised the issue of patients being transferred from acute hospitals to nursing homes in early March.
The Fianna Fail TD said the decision was made before guidance was in place for testing of those patients.
“Patients from hospitals that have Covid patients but where Covid has not spread around the hospital were not tested or isolated,” Mr Donnelly said.
“If those patients were asymptomatic they were not tested.
“As of today 884 women and men have lost their lives in nursing homes because of Covid, it’s over half the total number of fatalities.”
He asked the minister whether he accepted the transfer of non-tested patients from hospitals “with Covid in them most likely” contributed to the clusters.
Mr Harris said he “didn’t accept” the accusation, adding that the timeline fails to show that.
Mr Harris also told the Dail that Cabinet will decide at the end of next whether the country can move to the second phase of its roadmap.