LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s bishops are calling for “appropriate inquiries” into why nursing homes and care facilities were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The Republic of Ireland has had 24,929 confirmed positive tests for the coronavirus, with 1,651 deaths. Over 60 percent of those died in nursing care facilities. The situation is little better in Northern Ireland, where 53 percent of the 522 COVID-19 deaths have happened in nursing homes.

Due to the danger the new coronavirus poses to the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions, nursing care facilities around the globe have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Internationally, the Republic of Ireland has the second worst rate of nursing home deaths in the world, after Canada, where 82 percent of deaths have taken place in care facilities. For comparison, the U.S. rate is 41 percent.

“Our elderly parents, grandparents and relatives are among the most vulnerable during this pandemic and, thankfully, for many of them strict cocooning appears to have been an effective strategy in suppressing the spread of the virus,” said a statement from the Council for Healthcare of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

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However, the bishops said the high percentage of care home deaths is “distressing.”

“We would welcome appropriate inquiries into the reasons why nursing care facilities were so badly affected. Lessons must be learned,” the statement continued.

“More and more people will be availing of nursing care in the years ahead. Nursing homes should be prioritized by the State to ensure that they have the personnel and equipment necessary to deal with such crisis situations as soon as they arise,” the bishops said.

Human life is sacred and precious from the child in the womb to the elderly person in care. We must do all that we can to protect life and to improve the quality of life for those who are particularly vulnerable,” the statement said.

“At this time, the coronavirus crisis presents an opportunity for society to reflect on where it stands in relation to the elderly and to others who are most vulnerable among us. The lessons learned will enable us to build a culture of life and care where everyone is supported, and all are entitled to life-protecting services and facilities,” the bishops concluded.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome