New care home residents in North should be tested for Covid-19, says report

Staff in Northern Ireland’s special schools to be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine

Anyone entering a care home in the North should be tested for Covid-19, according to a new report by the Stormont health committee.

It also recommended that care home staff should be tested daily, and those moving between homes should be tested before entry into a new facility.

The report, which followed an inquiry by the committee into coronavirus in care homes in Northern Ireland, was published on Monday and made 54 recommendations, including testing for residents at least every fortnight.

Hospital Report

According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency about 40 per cent of those who died with Covid-19 last year were care home residents.


The committee chairman, Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew, said the most powerful evidence had come from relatives of care home residents who described “the traumatic impact of visiting restrictions on the physical and mental wellbeing of their loved ones, the vital importance of ensuring meaningful contact and the limits of technology for those with sensory or cognitive impairment.”

They were, he said, very clear risks that “had to be managed” but also “balanced against the harm caused by isolation as their loved ones approached the end of their lives”.

Meanwhile staff in Northern Ireland’s special schools who are supporting children with complex healthcare needs are to be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine, it has been confirmed.

It comes following an agreement between the North’s departments of health and education.

Health minister Robin Swann said: “While we know that children are not at increased risk these are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society, and by vaccinating the special school staff we are protecting those children who may be at higher risk if exposed to Covid-19.” It is not yet clear when they will be vaccinated.


More than 250,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines have so far been administered in the North, the Minister for Health told the Assembly on Monday.

Minister Robin Swann said most people aged 80 and over “should now have been invited to receive their first dose or have been advised they can expect to receive the vaccine,” while the vaccination of care home residents and staff, those over 80 and frontline healthcare workers has “largely been completed”.

GPs are currently vaccinating those aged 70-79 and those deemed clinically extremely vulnerable, while people aged 65-69 can now book vaccination appointments.

A further 11 people with Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the North's Department of Health announced on Monday.

It brings the total number of fatalities recorded by the Department to 1,861.

An additional 314 people tested positive for the virus.

The North’s hospitals are treating 735 people with Covid-19, including 64 in intensive care.


Earlier, the North’s Deputy First Minister said on Monday she is to self-isolate after she was identified as a close contract of a coronavirus case.

Michelle O’Neill said on social media that she was self-isolating “due to a positive test result in my home,” but would continue working remotely.

Separately, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has launched an investigation into potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations at a loyalist funeral on Friday.

Chief Inspector Darren Fox said a "significant number of people gathered as part of the cortege" at the funeral of Hugh Hill in Belfast on Friday.

“As a result, police have commenced an investigation into the matter, evidence has been gathered, and where individuals are identified as potentially being in breach of the regulations, they will be reported to the Public Prosecution Service,” Chief Insp Fox said.

No more than 25 people are allowed to attend a funeral under the Covid-19 rules currently in force in Northern Ireland.

The North's First Minister, Arlene Foster, told the BBC it was a "huge disappointment that people are not abiding by the rules, the rules are there for a reason, the rest of us abide by the rules and yet there are groups of people who believe that they are above the rules and that is wrong, everybody is equal under the law."

‘Deeply wounding’

The police are also investigating the number of people who attended the funeral of former IRA member Eamon McCourt in Derry last week.

Both Ms Foster and the Ulster Unionist party leader, Steve Aiken, said nobody was above the law and the police should take action in such circumstances.

“Police need to be much more visible in what they are doing because it is unacceptable no matter what side it comes from, it shouldn’t be happening,” Mr Aiken said.

The SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole said it was “deeply wounding” for those who followed the rules at their loved ones’ funerals to see “others appear to break the rules, and those rules not be enforced”.

On Monday the Orange Order announced that it has postponed a parade scheduled for May to mark the centenary of the formation of Northern Ireland because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Order said “any event that would attract large numbers of spectators is not viable or responsible at this time” and it had unanimously agreed to extend its directive that no Orange parades should take place until June 1st. – Additional reporting PA

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times