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Nursing homes to be reopened to visitors in a 'careful way'



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Nursing homes will be reopened to allow residents have visitors - but it must be done "in a careful way".

Dr Siobhán Kennelly, HSE adviser on older persons, warned 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 coronavirus briefing in the Department of Health.

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.

These include 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 to Government on beginning the first phase of easing the lockdown, he said he was "hopeful" the downward trend in cases and hospitalisations will continue.

He was 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".

Dr Holohan said the report would be discussed at today's meeting but no change on school opening was anticipated.

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 coronavirus, he said it would not affect a decision on beginning the first phase of exiting the 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 as relying on manual processes and different computer systems which are adding to delays.

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Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health Stephen Donnelly said he received new information which shows the median turnaround testing time for Covid-19 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, taking the total so far to 23,401.

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

The most common underlying conditions reported are chronic heart disease, affecting 15pc. This is followed by chronic respiratory disease in 11pc, while 6pc had diabetes.

There was a high admission rate to intensive care by people with the virus who were obese - and they account for around 16pc of patients who had to get the highest level of treatment.

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

A separate Hiqa review of studies on the immunity of people who have had the virus found that it is not yet possible to say if those who develop antibodies to the disease have protection from reinfection.

They are free from infection for two months after recovery but it is not possible to give a longer projection for now.

While some individuals have tested positive after recovery, this is likely due to virus re-detection where there is intermittent shedding of the virus rather than reinfection with a second virus. To date, there is no evidence that these individuals are infectious to others.

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