As the coronavirus continues to spread, there is deep concern about the situation in our care homes, and there are still important unanswered questions. Of the 435 virus-related deaths in the week to April 10, people aged 75 and over accounted for almost 70% of the total figure.
The authorities are still unable to tell us exactly how many residents of care homes have died, or how many have been diagnosed with the virus. This surveillance is woefully inadequate.
Ten residents of the Owen Mor Care Centre in Londonderry lost their lives in an 18-day period recently. However, three died in hospital, and their deaths are not included in the 41 revealed by officials yesterday.
As one of our reports today highlights, it is not known how many more care residents have died in hospital, and the real figure may never be known. However, the public has a right to know what is going on.
The situation is also complicated by the lack of PPE for care workers, and the fact that some care homes were being asked to admit people being discharged from hospital, even though they had not been tested for Covid-19. The situation in the care sector is dire compared to the commendable efforts elsewhere.
However, we must not forget that each statistic represents a tragic human story. The elderly are among the most vulnerable in our society, and those staff looking after them have been doing an admirable job, but they need help.
Despite the best efforts of the carers, many older people feel isolated from their families, and their relatives are also distressed because they cannot be close to their loved ones.
Amid all this suffering, the authorities are honour-bound to do all they can to end this uncertainty, as well as making sure that the carers have proper protection, and that the victims receive as much help as possible. The Stormont authorities and health chiefs must not fail in this venture, or they will do so at their peril. Our care homes and the elderly remain a major challenge.