The number of Covid cases is now being translated into occupied beds with 
100 per cent occupancy in South West Area Hospital and Antrim and Craigavon not far behind.

A recent party resulted in 70 cases in Cavan. Patients are being treated with oxygen support (CPAP), steroid dexamethasone and a variety of anti-virals and antibiotics and it is hoped the recovery rate will be better.

It is also hoped that vaccines will be ready by Christmas but studies indicate 
that two shots per year may be necessary as antibodies seem to only last four-five months.

It does not seem sensible that the 'shedders and spreaders' of secondary schools 
should return until the vaccines arrive unless for doctrinaire reasons.

Those who wanted to blight careers by docking grades by an algorithm should reconsidertheir concepts of 'damaging life chances' by missing school when remote learning is developing and becoming more effective.

We should begin to question how we got into such a mess. In the First World War, 
rapid learning was needed after the sacrifices at the Somme and we owe it to our relativeswho died in the first wave to ask if their deaths could have been avoided and how.

It remains my view, oft-stated on these pages, that nothing short of a regional public judicial inquiry will suffice to get these vital answers and improve our public health system so that these mistakes are not allowed to happen again.

Thus it was with Covid striking at Stormont, ICU beds overfilling to Dublin and the prospect of a vaccine by Christmas, that the Health Committee met to consider it’s Inquiry into Care Home Deaths which are being investigated by the Police in Scotland.

On the Tuesday the committee heard from Rita Devlin of the RCN, John Patrick Clayton and Ann Speed of UNISON.

Rita Devlin explained that there had been 437 deaths in care homes and that staff were now at the end of their tether with exhaustion and fearfulness. There was testing of patients and staff.

Gerry Carroll (PBP) asked how many care home staff were in a trade union. Ann Speed UNISON said that she thought it was about one-third to 40 per cent.

Alex Easton (DUP) asked about PPE and was told that trusts provided it at their cost and that there was now a constant supply — but they did not know what a new supply from China might be like.

Alan Chambers (UUP) was interested in obstacles to the trade unions.

Pat Sheehan (SF) alluded to infectious disease control in Hong Kong and asked if we were trying to emulate it.

When the Committee reconvened on Thursday they returned to Care Homes and the issue of the Police Scotland investigation into deaths there.

There are no 80 care homes in the North with confirmed Covid cases.

Fo the week ending the 9 October, there had been 437 deaths from Covid in care homes.

Pat Sheehan wanted to know about care home discharges. Dr Tony Stevens and Emer Hopkins of RQIA attended. Dr Stevens said they had learned from the first wave. Pat Sheehan again asked about infection control and Emer Hopkins said they would have a blended approach.

Gerry Carroll (PBP) reminded the committee that 336 residents had died in care homes in the first wave and inspections had been stopped. It was stated that inspections had been reduced. The West Belfast MLA said that they needed to improve quality and involve families. Pat Sheehan of West Belfast again remarked that there had been fewer deaths in care homes in Asian countries. 

Dr Michael Donnelly MB, BCh, BAO is a clinical epidemiologist.