Covid rips through Suffolk care homes again with deaths up 50% in a week

Stock image of a care worker wearing PPE, David Finch and Prema Fairburn-Dorai

Nearly 350 people have now died with coronavirus in Suffolk's care homes. Main image: A care worker wears PPE (stock photo), David Finch of Cephas Care and Prema Fairburn-Dorai - Credit: Cephas Care

Coronavirus is killing dozens of care home residents a week during the second wave, despite assurances that they would be protected this time around. 

Figures out on Tuesday reveal that since the beginning of the pandemic, 347 people have died from Covid-19 in Suffolk’s care homes. 

Last week, 39 people died in the county's care homes - up more than 50pc from 24 the previous week.

The number of deaths is now almost virtually level with the peak of the first wave in April last year when 42 care home residents died in a single week. 

It means that care home deaths currently account for a third of the 1,058 total virus fatalities in Suffolk - the same as the average in England. 

Nationally, there were 1,705 care home deaths recorded in the week to January 22, up from 661 a fortnight ago.

Life-saving vaccines are the way out of the current crisis, but they only arrived in mid-January, care home owners said. 

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NHS chiefs said almost all homes have now received Covid vaccinations after a rapid stepping-up of the programme last week, with eight understood to be fighting live outbreaks meaning they cannot yet be jabbed. 

But the sector is continuing to battle a surge of deaths, which care chiefs are putting down to Christmas and New Year mixing. 

Older woman wearing a face mask

- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

David Finch, who runs the Cephas Care group, revealed his firm recently battled a large outbreak. 

“It  almost certainly stemmed from the Christmas period,” he said. “We pretty much had every member of staff positive and every resident positive. 

“We’d had a couple of cases back in the first wave which was much easier to contain.

"But this new variant seemed to go through the home like no-one's business, even though staff had all the correct PPE. It was very difficult."  

He said the vaccine programme stepped up last week after a slow start.

Prema Fairburn-Dorai, chairman of the Suffolk Association of Independent Care Providers, also said she and her staff had begun to grow anxious about when they would receive the vaccine. 

Last week, the Suffolk and north east Essex area recorded the lowest percentage of over-80s who had received their first jab with 36% as of January 17. But health ministers said on Friday this had risen to 54%.

Care Home Chief, Prema Fairburn-Dorai. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

- Credit: Archant

“Suffolk was a bit slow to start with, and when the jabs arrived, the first people that got them were the NHS staff,” Ms Fairburn-Dorai added. 

“The priority one group was care homes and staff, but it all got a bit mixed up. It was easier for hospitals to get staff done on site.” 

A letter circulated to all adult care services in Suffolk on Friday, January 8 indicated vaccines could “potentially be arriving for care home staff and residents next week”, indicating that jabs were only ever expected in mid-January. An NHS England letter circulated a few days later confirmed a stepping up of the programme nationally. 

The arrival of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine greatly accelerated the rollout in Suffolk care homes, NHS chiefs said, as its storage temperature of 2-8C made it much easier to use than the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. 

“Just a few weeks after the Oxford vaccine – which allows teams to more easily vaccinate in care homes – thanks to the hard work of our staff and volunteers we’ve offered the first dose of the vaccine in all our care homes where it has been safe to do so,” NHS bosses added. 

Ms Fairburn-Dorai also said that now the vaccines are here, there is also an emerging problem with staff from the BAME community declining to have the jab. 

MP for Stratford on Avon Nadhim Zahawi

- Credit: David Jones/PA Wire

It is an issue vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has raised nationally, with adults in minority ethnic groups up to 20% less likely to receive the vaccine. 

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Zahawi said: “We are recording (the ethnicity of those who have been vaccinated) and we will be very soon publishing both ethnicity and also by work type, because I think it is really important that we focus on those communities that have vaccine hesitancy."

British-Asian celebrities launched a video on Tuesday, encouraging people to get vaccinated. 

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