Official figures show more than 8,000 residents with Covid 19 had died by the start of May. Mr Hancock said there has been a sharp recent drop in the number of people dying in the sector and transmission of the virus has slowed. He said: “I’m really pleased that the number of people dying in care homes is now falling, quite sharply.
“The number has almost halved over the past two to three weeks, since the peak.
“It’s very clear to me that the transmission in care homes is coming down and is much lower than it was.”
Care homes have been the second frontline in the fight against the disease and some staff have struggled to get hold of the protective equipment they need.
Controlling the spread of the virus through the sector has been a major battle.
But Mr Hancock dismissed claims that the government had “let down” care homes and said the death rate was lower than in other countries.
“I think that that’s really unfair,” he said. “The reason is this: Some of our most vulnerable people live in care homes and yet only around a quarter of deaths that have been in care homes.
“And at the same time, we’ve put in place those measures to protect people in care homes.
“I think the fact that, among people who work in the NHS, no more people have died than in the general population, I think that is a testament to how the NHS has performed.
“In almost all epidemics like this, it is doctors and nurses who tend to bear the brunt and so far, in this epidemic, in this country, there has been no higher death rate among healthcare workers. I think that is a really good thing.”
Some 2,423 Covid 19 related deaths were registered in care homes in the week ending May 1, accounting for 40 per of the coronavirus death toll in England and Wales.
The figures were down from 2,794 in the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Town hall leaders urged the government to make rapid improvements in the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff working in the sector.
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Social care is the frontline in the fight against coronavirus and while it is encouraging that we have seen a week-on-week fall in care home fatalities from Covid 19, we need to continue doing all we can to shield our most elderly and vulnerable, including those receiving care in their own homes.
“It is crucial the Government’s online PPE ordering system needs to be fully operational as soon as possible, so that councils and care providers can directly request that critical protective equipment gets to the frontline where it is desperately needed.”
Fiona Carragher, research director at UK Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Each of these deaths is a heart-breaking loss to their friends, families and carers which is why the Government must honour their commitment to ensure care homes get testing for all residents and staff and the protective equipment they need. We now approach our third month of lockdown, still with a tragically high number of care home deaths.
“Meanwhile, people with dementia are really struggling with the lack of visits from loved ones. We need a plan to put in place safe social contact for people with dementia, so that their wellbeing and health is not irreversibly damaged by this pandemic.”
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