Coronavirus: Republic reports 17 further deaths, 325 new cases
State records highest daily death toll with 3,235 confirmed cases across the country
The criteria for testing were changed on March 24th to ensure the service was targeted on high-risk groups. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images
Another 17 patients diagnosed with Covid-19 have died, the National Public Health Emergency Team reported on Tuesday evening.
The patients included four women and 13 men.
Eight of the death occurred in the east of the country, three in the south, three in the north-west and three in the west.
The median age of the deaths reported is 84, and eight of the patients were reported as having underlying health conditions.
There have now been a total of 71 coronavirus-related deaths in the Republic, 52 male and 19 female. Some 83 per cent were over the age of 70 years, and two-thirds were in the east of the country. Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency reported six further deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total there to 28, and 99 across the island.
Of those who have died in the Republic, 54 had underlying health conditions, and 59 deaths occurred in “hospital environments”, according to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.
Some 325 new cases of the disease were also reported on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 3,235.
To date, 30,213 Covid-19 tests have been carried out on patients, according to NPHET. The rate of positive tests has increased from 6 per cent to 15 per cent since the case definition for testing was made more stringent at the start of last week.
An analysis of cases up to last Sunday shows 49 per cent were in men and 51 per cent in women. Of the 118 clusters of the disease identified, roughly one-fifth each were in private houses, nursing homes and hospitals.
The median age of patients was 47 years and 26 per cent were hospitalised.
One-quarter of cases involved healthcare workers, but Dr Holohan said only one-quarter of these were hospital or healthcare-related transmissions; the rest were acquired abroad or in the community.
Among affected healthcare workers, one-third were allied healthcare workers, 31 per cent were nurses, 25 per cent were doctors, 9 per cent were healthcare assistants and 1 per cent were porters.
Following its meeting on Tuesday, NPHET recommended contact tracing be focused on suspect cases within prioritised groups, and that it encompass the period from 48 hours before the onset of a patient’s symptoms given the risk of asymptomatic transmission.
In addition, the group said it would work with the HSE to identify measures to strengthen support to staff and providers of nursing home care.
“The measures that we have recommended today should significantly enhance the preparedness and response to cases and outbreaks in nursing homes and other residential settings,” Dr Holohan said.
“As we have said from the beginning our efforts must be focused on protecting the most vulnerable to Covid-19 and these recommendations announced today seek to achieve this.”
The number of contacts per case, which had stood at about 20, has dropped to just three, he added.
Dr Cillian de Gascun, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, acknowledged that some people in the community are having to wait seven to 10 days to be testing due to global supply “constraints”.
He said hospitalised patients and healthcare workers were being prioritised for testing.
While the delays were “unanticipated and unfortunate” they did not change the plan to ramp up testing to 10,000-15,000 tests a day.
Dr Holohan said the number of deaths occurring was in line with what had been expected, and there had been a significant reduction in the daily number of new cases.
“We believe we are flattening the curve but 15pc growth is too much.”
Meanwhile, the Health Service Executive says it hopes to have all its testing centres open again as supplies of testing kit are replenished.
A number of testing centres, including one of the largest at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork, closed at the weekend due to equipment shortages.
Since Sunday, testing capacity has been “constrained” due to limited stock of testing kits, according to the HSE.
In addition, the agency says it has had challenges obtaining sufficient supplies of reagent for testing laboratories. “This is a global challenge with major suppliers having to ration provision across the world. We are making every effort to procure new stocks.”
By Sunday, about 38,000 people had been offered appointments for testing in community testing clinics established across the country in mid-March.
However, the criteria for testing were changed on March 24th to ensure the service was targeted on high-risk groups and those at risk of exposure to Covid-19, such as healthcare workers.
This has had the effect of reducing the number of people referred for testing.
“As the total number of people requiring testing reduces, there will be a change in the number of locations required to offer testing,” the HSE told The Irish Times in a statement.
The statement did not say how long the current backlog for testing and processing samples is.
It said stock were replenished stocks on Monday “and while not all centres had sufficient supplies to recommence testing yesterday, we hope to be fully operation across all sites today”.
In addition to the National Virus Reference Laboratory in UCD, 12 hospital labs are also testing for coronavirus, as is a HSE public analyst lab and one in the Department of Agriculture.
“Discussions are ongoing with other laboratories to increase capacity. However provision of reagent and extraction kits will remain a major challenge for the foreseeable future until the major suppliers ramp up production.”