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Nursing homes should be 'careful to minimise risks' as lockdown easing looms

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Medical chief Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan

Medical chief Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan

Colin Keegan

Medical chief Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: Colin Keegan

Nursing homes will be re-opened to allow residents to see visitors - but it must be done in a careful way, the HSE's adviser on older persons has said.

Dr Siobhan Kennelly yesterday said that, as the rest of society was beginning to reopen, it should follow that nursing homes could also be allowed visitors for the health of residents, families and staff - but no timescale was given.

"It needs to be done in a careful way to minimise risk," she told the daily Department of Health coronavirus briefing.

Earlier, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned that, as the easing of lockdown looms, there must be a plan to live with the virus and learn lessons, including on how to protect residents of nursing homes - where the challenge from the virus will not go away.

As the National Public Health Emergency Team meets today to consider recommendations on beginning the first phase of easing lockdown, he said he was "hopeful" the downward trend in cases and hospitalisations will continue.

Asked about the Hiqa review of seven studies which indicated children do not spread the virus at a higher rate than others - and comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that reopening schools would be among the "safest things to do" - he said the report would be discussed at today's meeting but no change on school opening was anticipated.

Target

The Hiqa review had to rely on a very small number of studies on child transmission of the virus, he added.

Commenting on the ongoing problems with the testing system for Covid-19, he said it would not affect a decision on beginning the first phase of exiting lockdown.

The HSE will today outline its plan to bring down the waiting time for a test from five days to four and lower, with an aim for a turnaround time of 72 hours.

It will also set out how it will tackle various difficulties, such relying on manual processes and different computer systems which are adding to delays.

Fianna Fail health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said he had received new information which shows the median turnaround testing time is currently five days.

"This is much longer than the initial target of three days, and longer still than what many believe should be no more than one or two days," he said.

It comes as another 10 deaths from the virus were announced yesterday, bringing the toll to 1,497.

A further 159 cases have been diagnosed, leaving the total so far at 23,401.

Of the 15,450 people who caught the virus, 53pc had at least one underlying condition.

The most common underlying condition reported was chronic heart disease, affecting 15pc.

There was a high admission rate to intensive care by people with the virus who were obese.

They account for around 16pc of patients who had to receive the highest level of treatment.

So far, 84.3pc of people who are known to have caught the virus here have recovered.