Coronavirus deaths likely to be higher than official figures suggest - O'Neill

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by David Young, PA

Northern Ireland's coronavirus death toll is like to be higher than official figures suggest, the deputy first minister has said.

Michelle O'Neill was commenting on the fact that figures issued by the Public Health Agency only cover deaths in hospital settings.

Those figures record that, as of Thursday, 82 people with Covid-19 had died in a hospital setting in the region. Four deaths were recorded since Wednesday.

At Stormont's daily media briefing, Ms O'Neill was asked about deaths from coronavirus that might have occurred in care home settings.

Earlier in the week, Health Minister Robin Swann said that the virus had so far been found in 20 care home settings in the region.

Health union Unison has warned that the 16,000 care home residents in Northern Ireland are at risk and called for immediate testing in the facilities.

Ms O'Neill said: "I think that it's fair to say, given how the stats are recorded now, the number of deaths recorded probably doesn't reflect all those people out there who have died with Covid 19.

"That is being looked at now and we hope to be able to have a fuller picture over the course of the days ahead."

She said there was a need to "get to grips" with virus clusters in care homes.

"In terms of care homes, there has to be a particular emphasis on care homes," said the deputy first minister.

"We have seen, when you look at examples across the world, we have seen really catastrophic instances where huge numbers of people have lost their lives if you don't actually go in and actually tackle clusters.

"We have raised that with the health minister and we will discuss that again at the executive meeting tomorrow."

First Minister Arlene Foster stressed that most people who die from coronavirus die in hospital.

"I understand that we are still only registering the deaths in hospitals in connection with Covid 19," she said.

"Most people who pass away with Covid 19, as I understand it, are taken to hospital.

"Either they are on a ventilator or they are in intensive care before they pass away."

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