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Death toll could have been 39,000 by today if not for lockdown - health boss to warn

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A woman wearing a face mask walks past a mural depicting Dr Tony Holohan in Dublin yesterday. Photo: REUTERS

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a mural depicting Dr Tony Holohan in Dublin yesterday. Photo: REUTERS

REUTERS

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a mural depicting Dr Tony Holohan in Dublin yesterday. Photo: REUTERS

Ireland could have had 39,000 deaths from Covid-19 by today, a Dail investigation of the State's response to the pandemic will be told.

Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin will refer to terrifying modelling from the start of the emergency, while also offering a defence of the response to outbreaks in nursing homes.

His remarks will come at the Dail's Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, which will grill witnesses for the first time today.

HSE boss Paul Reid is set to warn that the crisis is ongoing and that "we are not at the end of it by a long stretch".

Concerns

Today's meetings will also provide an opportunity for TDs to publicly put questions to chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, the chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which has guided Government decisions in recent months.

Committee members are expected to raise concerns over Covid-19 cases in nursing homes and direct provision centres, as well as Ireland's testing and contact tracing regime.

There will also be a focus on how new workplace regulations are being monitored and enforced a day after tens of thousands of workers began the return to retail outlets and building sites.

It comes on the second day of the first significant lifting of restrictions.

Many garden centres and DIY stores that reopened saw long queues and customers told to follow social distancing rules.

The easing also saw golfers return to the fairways while four people from different households can now to meet up outside within 5km of their homes.

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HSE boss Paul Reid. Photo: Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

HSE boss Paul Reid. Photo: Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

HSE boss Paul Reid. Photo: Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Mr Breslin is expected to tell TDs that "calculated risks" are being taken in easing lockdown and there is an "ever-present danger" of further waves.

"Our experience has been much less severe, but every case and every death has been one too many," he will say.

Fall

Yesterday, the virus death toll fell to a dramatic new low of four, while the number of newly confirmed cases dropped to 88.

"Moving into a new phase in Ireland's response, we now have an opportunity to increase our exercise activity up to 5km and participate with a friend outside of the household," said Dr Siobhan Ni Bhriain, a consultant psychiatrist and HSE integrated care lead.

"I would urge anyone who can, to take advantage of this in order to improve mental health and well-being."

She said she would be "cautious" about meeting in back gardens because that could run the risk of people having to retreat indoors. She advised to keep the group to the same friends instead of separate groups and emphasised that physical distancing is essential.

It also emerged that Ireland may be following the UK and adding anosmia - the loss of taste and smell - to the list of symptoms for coronavirus.

Dr Holohan said health chiefs were considering this as part of guidance they would give to GPs when assessing a patient for a test referral.

He was concerned that 46pc of people now think the "worst is over" - up from 43pc last week.

"We don't believe it is. This is some cause for concern. It tells us we need to keep an eye on this and the disease indicators that we are tracking," he said.

He said the reports he received on the first day of lockdown easing was that retailers were behaving very responsibly.

GPs are now for the first time able to refer people who feel well and have no symptoms for a test if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

Dr Holohan also indicated that some patients who are being admitted to hospital are likely to be tested for the virus.

It emerged there have now been 459 clusters of the virus confirmed in residential homes, including 258 in nursing homes.

Care homes have accounted for 969 deaths - around 62pc of all 1,547 deaths from the virus nationally so far. Of these, 843 deaths were in nursing homes, around 54.5pc of deaths.