COVID-19 has been diagnosed in almost one-third of Ireland's nursing homes as experts warn of a "catastrophe in the making." 

There have been 155 outbreaks of COVID-19 in nursing homes across the country, according to the Health Service Executive (HSE).  

Additionally, COVID-19 has been diagnosed in 58 residential institutions and 23 long-stay units in hospitals. 

Professor Jack Lambert, a professor of infectious diseases at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, warned that the spread of Coronavirus to nursing homes was a potential "catastrophe." 

Lambert said that every under-utilized Irish healthcare worker should be sent to "every single nursing home in Ireland" to deal with the threat facing nursing homes. 

Lambert said that up to half of the nursing homes in Ireland could have clusters of the Coronavirus and he called for under-utilized staff in the Mater Hospital to visit homes around the country and assess PPE stocks. 

He said that nursing homes needed to be a "priority" and that preparations should have been in place weeks ago to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 reaching homes across the country. 

Speaking on Today With Sean O'Rourke  on RTÉ Radio One, Lambert said that there was no holistic government approach to nursing homes and individual homes were responsible for making their own plans instead. 

He condemned the HSE's expectation that nursing homes would source their own PPE, conduct their own tests and organize training. 

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The number of clusters in nursing homes has grown from around 20 in mid-March to over 200 now, according to Lambert. 

More than half of the COVID-19-related deaths in Ireland have been in nursing homes. 

A total of 444 people in Ireland have died from COVID-19 at the time of writing and 290 of those people lived in residential facilities, including 245 people who lived in nursing homes. 

A number of nursing home patients have been transferred to hospitals. 

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) said that early testing and early results could help to reduce staffing shortages in nursing homes across the country. 

Mary Dunnion, HIQA's Chief Inspector of Social Service, said that elderly people are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and that elderly people in nursing homes are the most vulnerable to community transmission. 

She said that a large number of nursing home staff were in self-isolation for 14 days while they awaited test results, which has further impacted staff shortages in homes across the country. 

She said that staff could return to work sooner if they can get tested quickly. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Siobhán Ní Bhriain with the HSE said that all recent deaths in nursing homes will be reviewed to ensure that the death toll is not being underreported. 

Ní Bhriain said there may have been some Coronavirus deaths that were "not typically COVID in terms of symptoms." 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke in the Dáil on Thursday about the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and said that it is the pressing issue in the Irish response to the virus at present. Additionally, Cheif Medical Officer Tony Holohan admitted that nursing homes continued to pose a challenge. 

Read more: Irish government announces $78 million support package for nursing homes during COVID-19

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