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Pandemic forecast warned 39,000 could have died in Ireland by today

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Chief medical officer Tony Holohan will give evidence to TDs at the inquiry.
Photo by Steve Humphreys

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan will give evidence to TDs at the inquiry. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan will give evidence to TDs at the inquiry. Photo by Steve Humphreys

Ireland could have suffered 39,000 deaths from Covid-19 by today, a Dáil inquiry into the State's response to the pandemic will be told.

The death toll in the country stood at 1,547 last night.

But Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin will reveal terrifying modelling from the start of the emergency to the Dáil's Special Committee on Covid-19 Response today.

Mr Breslin will also offer a defence of the response to outbreaks in nursing homes as the committee examines witnesses for the first time.

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

Today's meeting will also provide an opportunity for TDs to publicly question chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), which has guided crucial 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.

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.

Today, the country enters the second day of the first significant lifting of coronavirus restrictions,

Many garden centres and DIY stores that reopened yesterday saw long queues as the numbers being allowed inside were limited because of social distancing rules.

The easing of restrictions also saw golfers return to the fairways, and four people from different households are now allowed to meet up outside within 5km of their homes.

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 of the virus.

His opening statement says epidemiological modelling at the outset of the crisis shows there might have been 39,000 deaths by today under a scenario where the epidemic had been partially mitigated.

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

Government and health authorities have faced criticism for outbreaks of the virus that have occurred in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Mr Breslin will tell TDs the deaths in long-term care facilities "are the most difficult aspect of our experience with Covid-19 so far". "The testimony of those who lost loved ones and can't say goodbye in the normal way is truly heart-breaking," he will tell TDs, adding that the experience in such facilities has been similar, and in some cases worse, in other countries.

Mr Breslin will also set out how Ireland is one of the few countries undertaking mass testing in long-term residential care settings.

He will also point to the enhanced measures for nursing homes including €72m in assistance for private homes in addition to the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), staff and other supports from the HSE.

Mr Reid will report that outbreaks in long-term residential centres are falling. There were 33 last week, down from 42 the week before.

Separately, he will say the HSE is now in a position to conduct more than 100,000 tests a week and the focus now is to get turnaround time for results down to two days.

TDs are expected to probe Nphet's role in the crisis when Mr Holohan appears.

Well publicised tensions between the HSE and Mr Holohan over the setting of testing targets are likely to be examined.

The case of the Skellig Star hotel in Co Kerry - which was recently turned into a direct provision centre for asylum seekers - will be raised.

There has been an outbreak of Covid-19 at the centre.

Locals in Cahersiveen say they have been placed in an "unacceptable position by the State" amid fears residents of the centre could be blamed for the spread of Covid-19 in the small Kerry town.

They warned of a "volatile" situation ahead of asylum seekers being allowed out of self-isolation.

The committee will hear from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and Construction Industry Federation (CIF) this evening.

Ictu general secretary Patricia King will tell TDs the HSA must have the resources to carry out a full-scale inspection campaign and warn that if it doesn't it would "undoubtedly risk lives". The Government has insisted the HSA will get all the resources it needs.

The HSA is to outline the agency's enforcement powers in relation to the new Return to Work Safely Protocol. Its chief executive Dr Sharon McGuinness will say 67 of its 109 inspectors have been assigned to oversee and enforce the new regulations.

Do you know a doctor, nurse, caring neighbour, shop worker or someone else excelling on the frontline in the fight against Covid-19? Nominate them for our Frontline Star of the Week award HERE

Irish Independent