Just 60 people who died with confirmed Covid-19 had postmortems

Autopsies in Covid cases restricted to two sites in Dublin and Cork due to infection risk

Just 60 people who have died with confirmed Covid-19 have been the subject of a postmortem examination since the start of the pandemic, according to official figures.

Due to the risk of infection from the body, autopsies (postmortems) on people with confirmed Covid-19 have been restricted to two sites: the Dublin District Coroner and Cork University Hospital.

The Dublin District Coroner says 25 autopsies have been performed on deceased people with the virus this year; in 19 of these, Covid-19 was mentioned as a cause of death.

In 2020, 21 autopsies were carried out on Covid-positive remains in the Dublin District; 11 of these have Covid-19 mentioned as a cause of death.


Meanwhile, the number of people diagnosed with Covid-19 has fallen below 1,000 for the first time in almost three months, with 892 confirmed cases on Monday.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly hailed the tally as a “significant milestone”, though he noted that Monday’s figures were often lower than on other days.

On Monday morning, 333 people were in hospital who have tested positive for the virus. There were 64 people in intensive care with Covid-19.

Almost 94 per cent of the adult population has had at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, Mr Donnelly said.

A further three deaths with Covid-19 were reported by Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on Monday, bringing the death toll in the North from the virus to 2,570. Some 1,080 new positive cases of the virus were recorded in the North.

Up to last Tuesday, 5,249 deaths of people with Covid-19 had been recorded in the Republic. This includes 176 classified as “possible” Covid-19 deaths and 97 “probable” deaths.

Despite the low number of postmortems carried out on Covid-19 bodies, the total number of examinations performed in Dublin dipped only slightly at the start of the pandemic; 1,113 in the first eight months of 2019; 979 in the same period in 2020; and 1,073 in 2021.

The coroner’s office is directing that autopsies be performed in circumstances where they are mandated by law, it told The Irish Times, and pathologists and coroners were following guidance from the Faculty of Pathology in this regard.

The coroner said no deaths had been recorded as being due to Covid-19 vaccines.

At Cork University Hospital (CUH), 14 autopsies on people with Covid-19 have been carried out since the start of the pandemic.

Overall, CUH has carried out 649 autopsies so far this year, compared to 772 in 2020 and 822 in 2019, a spokesman said.

The Faculty of Pathology guidelines recommend medical teams hold case conferences with the coroner over Covid-19 deaths.

“Each death must be assessed in great detail and in the context of clinical, radiologic and laboratory findings to ensure that an accurate cause of death is ascribed, with the consideration of the need for a postmortem examination for this determination,” the guidelines read.

"In Covid-19 positive cases requiring postmortem examination, transfer to one of the two specialised mortuaries in Ireland is required to ensure that the postmortem examinations are performed in facilities appropriately equipped for this purpose.

“Clear guidelines for this process are outlined to minimise delays for bereaved families at this difficult time.”

An autopsy can show whether a person died from the virus, ie, that it was the immediate cause of death, or from the virus, in other words, that it was a factor along with others such as underlying conditions.

In other countries, autopsies have uncovered new research information about how the virus causes serious illness in some patients. They have also revealed earlier cases of the disease than had been officially recorded.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.