The number of Covid-19 related deaths in the State has risen above 1,000, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has confirmed.
A further 37 deaths were reported last night, which will be included in the total alongside 185 probable deaths, where a person died without testing positive but the doctor caring for them believes they had the disease.
This brings the total number of Covid-19-linked deaths to 1,014. The change to include probable deaths in the overall figure follows new guidance from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).
There were an additional 577 cases confirmed yesterday evening, bringing the total number of cases in the State to 18,184. The growth rate in confirmed cases was just below 3.3 per cent, down from the previous days growth rate of 5.6 per cent.
Dr Tony Holohan, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), reiterated NPHET’s ongoing concerns about compliance with strict travel restrictions and other measures which have been in place since March 27th.
“We still have a lot of progress to make in terms of the pattern of this disease,” he said. “We can’t, at the last minute take, as it were, our foot off the gas because we will lose a lot of the progress we have made.”
Dr Holohan said the entire NPHET shares a “sense of concern” that has grown over the last week regarding compliance. He said the situation remains that he would not currently recommend measures be relaxed, given the behaviour of the disease.
The Department of Health confirmed there are now 198 clusters in nursing homes around the country, with 2,500 cases in these settings. A cluster is two cases of disease or more. Of those diagnosed persons, 208 have been hospitalised, and a total of 488 confirmed or probable deaths have occurred.
As of last Saturday night, 3,830 healthcare workers had tested positive, 159 of whom had been hospitalised. Some 24 were placed in intensive care, and five had died.
NPHET has also made a decision in principle to broaden the criteria for people eligible for testing. From early next week, patients will only have to display one clinical symptom. They will, however, have to be in a vulnerable group in order to become eligible for testing.
This is likely to cause a significant increase in the numbers being sent forward from its current level of around 1,500 per day. Previously, the testing system became overloaded under less restrictive criteria, although Dr Holohan said he believed there is sufficient capacity in the system to handle the increased demand. “It will increase the rate of testing, and that’s what we want. We think we should be able to do that within the existing capacity that the HSE has in place now, both in terms of the capacity to take the sample, and to test it in the laboratory,” he said.
Asked about a suggestion by US president Donald Trump that bleach or disinfectant could be injected into humans as a possible treatment for coronavirus, he said: “I hope, and expect, that the majority of people will understand that that is not good advice. It’s a very unsafe thing to do, [there is] absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support such a claim.
Earlier on Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it has been difficult to put into operation some of the supports pledged to the nursing home sector to help it deal with the coronavirus crisis.
It has been difficult to put into operation some of the supports pledged to the nursing home sector to help it deal with the coronavirus crisis, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar said the State is attempting to tackle the spread of Covid-19 on a number of fronts but some difficulties have arisen and will continue to do so.
Nursing Homes Ireland earlier this week said the majority of private nursing homes had not received any staffing support from the HSE.
The HSE and trade unions last week announced an agreement allowing health service personnel to volunteer to work in private nursing homes affected by Covid-19. However, Nursing Homes Ireland said “the heralded redeployment of staff is not manifesting on the ground”.
Mr Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris defended the Government's approach, with Mr Harris saying it is "challenging" to "get people to volunteer, and I don't mean that in a bad way".
The pair were speaking, along with Minister for Children Katherine Zappone and others, yesterday at a Government press conference to mark a mental health initiative to help the public through the coronavirus crisis.
The “In This Together” campaign encourages people to pick a new activity that could help them to feel healthier or better as the State deals with Covid-19, with information being posted on the gov.ie and local authority websites.
Mr Varadkar said the Government hopes to be in a position to lift some of the restrictions to deal with Covid-19 when the current phase of lockdown ends on May 5th. He said he would announce an exit plan in advance of that date.
The Taoiseach and Mr Harris asked the public to adhere to the current measures to ensure that the Government is in a position to lift some restrictions.
“There is a direction connection between what people do and what we do as a country in the next 10 days and if it is possible to ease restrictions,” he said. “I don’t want to threaten anyone. I am not trying to wave a big stick or anything.”
He added that there is concern about the “anticipatory behaviour” of people who may choose to move more freely in advance of the restrictions being eased.
On the issue of nursing homes, the Taoiseach said a “lot has been committed to” the nursing home sector”.
“We appreciate the fact that it has been difficult to operationalise that. There are so many things we’re trying to do on so many different levels at the moment . . . ,” he said.
Mr Harris said it is “desirable” to have staff working in nursing homes who the residents are familiar with.
“Our main priority is to try and ensure very quick testing for staff in nursing homes. “We have a challenging situation in our long term residential care settings and so quite frankly does pretty much every other country affected by this.”