Coronavirus: Another 17 deaths and 331 new cases reported

Nursing homes to get financial support, staff screening and priority tests in bid to curb spread

Minister for Health Simon Harris will announce new measures to tackle Covid-19 in nursing homes on Saturday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/EPA.

Minister for Health Simon Harris will announce new measures to tackle Covid-19 in nursing homes on Saturday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/EPA.

 

Another 17 patients diagnosed with coronavirus in the State have died.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said on Saturday it had also been informed of 331 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Republic, as of 1pm on Saturday.

There have now been 137 coronavirus related deaths and 4,604 confirmed cases in the Republic.

In relation to the latest deaths, 15 deaths were in the east, one in the south and one in the west of the country. They included four females and 13 males.

In total 13 of them were reported as having underlying health conditions and the median age of the reported deaths on Saturday was 77 years.

Earlier a € 72 million package of measures to help nursing homes tackle coronavirus outbreaks, was announced by Minister for Health Simon Harris.

The announcement came amid suggestions on Saturday that some of the restrictions on work, travel and education, could remain in place until a vaccine is found, which could take six to 12 months.

It also emerged on Saturday that there are 40 clusters of Covid-19 cases in nursing homes in the State.

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The measures to assist nursing homes include twice-a-day staff temperature checks, priority coronavirus testing for staff and the appointment of Covid-19 managers in affected homes.

Speaking at a press conference in the Department of Health, Mr Harris said progress had been made in controlling the spread of the disease. He said the average Irish person with Covid-19 had infected 4.3 other people on March 16th, but that this figure had dropped to 2.5 people at the end of March, following the introduction of containment measures.

“We need to get that number below one which means the virus does not sustain itself in the community,” he said.

Next seven days

He said the next seven days will be “absolutely critical” in dealing with the virus. “We have seen the rate of growth slow, but to be blunt about it, it is still too high if we are to get to where we need to be.”

The measures announced by Mr Harris will also see access provided to personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing home staff along with expert advice and training on protecting against the spread of the virus.

Staff movement across residential facilities will be minimised and the HSE will support staff with alternative accommodation and transport if required to limit social contacts.

Mr Harris said agency staff, who move from nursing home to nursing home, presented a risk of spreading the virus.

As part of a temporary Covid-19 financial support scheme there will be a per head payment of up to €800 a patient a month for each person in a nursing home.

This will apply to the first 40 residents. The figure for the next 40 residents will be €400 per month and it will be €200 per resident per month thereafter.

In addition to this, any nursing home that has an outbreak of Covid-19 will be able to apply for financial assistance of up to €75,000 a month for the months of April, May and June.

This money will be provided when a nursing home has incurred significant costs arising directly from a Covid-19 outbreak as certified by the HSE.

The costs involved will have to be independently certified by an auditor.

Mr Harris said there was an “urgent need for a focused and targeted response” to the number of Covid-19 cases in nursing homes.

“The nursing home sector cares for one of the most precious and vulnerable groups in our society,” he said. “We must do everything we can to support them to help break the transmission of the virus.”

“We must also support staff working in nursing homes and ensure their safety and health as we continue to deal with this pandemic. “It is vital we leave nobody behind as we navigate our way out of this pandemic.”

Extended

Meanwhile it has emerged some of the broader restrictions already in placce on movement, work and study could be extended beyond Easter Sunday.

Dr Cillian De Gascun, the chair of the Health Service Executive’s expert advisory group on the pandemic and a consultant virologist, said it was “certainly possible” that some restrictions would be retained until a vaccine is developed.

He said developing a vaccine could take at least six to 12 months and “people probably need to be cognisant of that”, he told RTÉ Radio One’s Cormac Ó hEadhra on Saturday.

A time delay from restrictions being implemented and taking effect - if they are effective - means Ireland will only find out in the coming seven to ten days whether the tightened restrictions ordered by the government last week have been successful.

“These next two weeks are really crucial for us,” he said.

Global cases of coronavirus have shot past one million with more than 58,000 fatalities, and with death tolls soaring in the United States and western Europe.

At least 58,773 people across the world have now died as a result of the pandemic, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed cases passed a million on Thursday with at least 1,094,068 people now infected.

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