Six people have died at a nursing home in Co Laois within the last seven days and 49 more residents there have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Out of the 75 staff members working at the Droimnín Nursing Home in Stradbally, 33 have also been diagnosed with Covid-19.

It was confirmed by the owners of the facility today that two residents passed away over the weekend, bringing to six the number of lives lost since 4 January.

All those who died had tested positive for the virus.

Residents at Droimnín were due to get the Covid-19 vaccine on 19 January as part of the rollout to nursing homes across Laois, but that cannot go ahead now until 28 days after all coronavirus tests at the home prove negative.

Gearóid Brennan, the Chief Executive of Brookhaven Healthcare Group, which runs the Droimnín home, said: "What is hard to convey in all this is how close the staff and residents are. They are like family and it is so traumatic when a resident passes away.

"As well as working so hard during this virus outbreak, staff have the heartbreak of seeing the residents they cared for dying in such difficult circumstances."

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Mr Brennan said there were no transfers to hospital and all deaths occurred in the nursing home.

As of today, 52 residents at Droimnín have tested positive for Covid-19, as well as 33 of the 75 staff.

The home had 66 residents when the virus outbreak began just before New Year's Eve.

It is understood the vast majority of residents and staff are asymptomatic.

Mr Brennan said the situation is expected to improve later this week, as staff that were close contacts should be able to return following their 14-day isolation period.

About 25 unaffected staff are living in a separate 31-bed building at the nursing home complex instead of going home to their families, in a bid to prevent further spread of the virus.

Many are also doing voluntary extra shifts, to provide cover for staff who are absent after testing positive.

One nurse, two healthcare assistants and a maintenance person were provided by the HSE last week to try and assist the nursing home. There has been a small increase in that number since then, including an expert in infection prevention and control.

An 11-bed Covid unit was set up at Droimnín at the start of the outbreak, which was extended into larger wards over following days.

Residents who have not tested positive are isolated in a separate section of the home and are looked after by a designated team of nursing, cleaning and other staff, to ensure there is no crossover.

Mr Brennan thanked the Stradbally community for their "incredible support and kindness" not only now, but throughout the long months of the pandemic since last March.

He said: "From the start, the people of Stradbally have been a fantastic support to us.

"They lit candles, held vigils, provided IT devices for residents to stay in touch with their families and often gathered outside the big windows at the front of the nursing home, to lift the spirits of residents throughout a very difficult year.

"They have been amazing and everyone at Droimnín is so grateful for their support."