I welcome this opportunity to update the House once again on the Covid-19 disease and our national response to it.
I will begin by providing an update on our modelling work. I am pleased to say that the R number, which we have been talking about for several weeks, has remained stable at 0.5 to 0.8. That is quite an achievement by the people of this country. By now, Deputies know what this means but it is important to reflect on its impact on people and their lives. When the Taoiseach announced a series of restrictions on 27 March, our modelling at that point showed the R rate stood at 2.4 - 100 people were being hospitalised every day, 70 people were in intensive care units and 22 people had lost their lives. If the epidemic had continued at that rate, our modelling suggests that today there would be 2,200 people seriously ill in critical care units. Our modelling also shows that if that trend had continued, by today, 30 April, 4,800 people would have lost their lives from Covid-19. Sadly, 1,190 lives have been lost to this virus. We think of all those families grieving at such a difficult time. However, thanks to the incredible efforts of the people, our modelling suggests that over 3,500 lives have been saved. That is 3,500 reasons to stay at home, stay the course and keep with us on this journey. We have made significant progress but we cannot let that mask the current reality. Up to 40 people are still being hospitalised with Covid-19 each day. Between three and four people are being admitted to intensive care units each day. They are the sickest patients in our country. We must finish the job.
If we want to give this country the very best chance of success, we must continue with the work. If we want to continue to save lives, we must stay united and stick together. I understand the fatigue that people are feeling at this stage. We all feel it. It is human nature. We are all human and denying ourselves many of the things most intrinsic to our very humanity.
We all now know a lot more about the virus and the ways in which we can protect ourselves from it. We must guard against any sense of invincibility, however. It is true that some people are more vulnerable to this virus. In truth, everyone is vulnerable to this highly infectious disease. In the past few days, we have heard a growing commentary that it is only people of a certain age or with certain conditions who are susceptible to this virus. That is not the case. We are all vulnerable to it. We must, as individuals and as a country, remain cautious and vigilant.
I know people want us to map out what the next phase will look like for Ireland. We will do so tomorrow. The Taoiseach has set out the criteria which will guide our decisions. We have every chance of success but we have to get the timing right. Moving too quickly will set us up for failure. That failure would have real and devastating human consequences of which we are all too aware. There will also be social consequences of this going on longer or of us going backwards, which is also a possibility if we get it wrong.
We will provide a clear sense of direction, but in the meantime our collective objective remains to suppress this virus. We must do everything we can to stay safe and to protect each other. Despite some positive signs, it is too soon to say that we are safe from this disease, but it is in our power to keep ourselves safe and to keep others safe if we continue to stay at home, to wash our hands, to practise good respiratory hygiene and to continue physical distancing. We have come this far. Let us not risk undoing it and let us not risk going backwards.
For our part, we continue to build capacity across a number of areas to respond to Covid-19. I will now provide some updates on key areas. Our target for overall testing, as determined by the National Public Health Emergency Team, chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, is 100,000 tests per week operating on a seven-day a week basis for a minimum of six months from mid-May. The HSE has developed a roadmap as to how we can rapidly reach that capacity. It has the full and unequivocal support of my Department. Significant progress has been made in a very short space of time to develop our testing capacity. The scale of this effort and the pace at which capacity is being developed cannot be understated. I know there have been bumps in the road; there has been in every country in the world.
I thank the people who have worked so hard to get us to this point and to build these systems, because huge progress has now been made. The establishment of 48 community testing centres across the country and a steady supply chain of swabbing kits is in place. Significant laboratory capacity has been sourced nationally and internationally and a range of supply chains for reagents and other materials has been sourced. A robust testing referral pathway for GPs has been put in place. New IT systems have been developed and existing ones modified to ensure tracking of testing across the full process. Nine new contact tracing centres are in operation and 1,700 people have been trained to date to support specialist teams in public health, occupational health and infection prevention and control. A major programme of testing is under way in long-term residential care facilities. Some 28,000 samples have been taken since 18 April. This is a significant, complex and large-scale operation spanning a number of sectors and hundreds of providers.
As we continue to build the capacity of the health services to deal with Covid-19, we will also need to further plan how we will provide services for non-Covid-19 care over a protracted period. We know now this is going to be a protracted period and people are going to get sick with things that are not Covid-19. How do we care for them? This is a challenge with which all health services around the world are now grappling. At the end of March the HSE entered into an arrangement with the private hospitals to use their capacity, including their ICU beds and their isolation facilities, in our response to Covid-19. The deal was on a cost-only basis and all patients are to be treated as public for the duration of the crisis. It is important to remember that the requirement for this additional capacity will remain with us. I have heard some people suggest that perhaps because we did not see a peak that we do not need the capacity now. That is nonsense. Thankfully, and thanks to the sacrifices people have made, so far we have avoided the expected surge so that currently there is a level of spare capacity in the entire system, both the public health service and the private health service. We will use that capacity, particularly that of our private hospitals, to deal with the ongoing urgent work and the backlog of elective care need which has grown further in the past month. We will also use it to guard against the potential need for a Covid-19 surge in the future, a risk that should not be dismissed. As of today, we are using about 33% of their capacity, with some hospitals at 50%, and this is increasing and will increase further when we restart elective work when deemed safe to do so. Over 150 consultants have now signed up to the contract offer and I understand more intend to do so, once the recent agreement that the HSE can fund private rooms, if required, to provide public services, is concluded this week. The arrangements provide for continuity of care for existing patients on an equal basis to public patients. The more consultants that sign up, the more services we will be able to provide to all members of the public.
I thank all consultants currently providing excellent care in these challenging circumstances and everybody in all professions and all workers right across the health service. I know doctors would also want me to take this opportunity to remind everyone to contact their local health service if they are unwell. People should not feel they are a burden on the health service at this challenging time. If people feel ill they should please still come forward because the risk of secondary deaths and secondary illnesses arising from this Covid-19 pandemic is very real. People should please not wait if they need treatment.
The number of clusters of Covid-19 in residential facilities remains our area of greatest concern. We are continuing with the significant measures already in place to protect both the residents and staff. These measures include 18 response teams across the country, led by senior nursing support and infection prevention and control in public health input into preventing and managing clusters. We are prioritising the testing of staff and residents as I have outlined.
The regulator, HIQA, has published and is now assessing a new quality assurance regulatory framework for long-term residential healthcare settings so that we have ongoing oversight, not anecdote, into the response of each of these facilities - public, private and voluntary.
We are currently looking, as the House will be aware, at the public health measures that are in place until 5 May. Our primary focus in that analysis will be to ensure that any access taken will not endanger the progress that we have made in suppressing this disease. Extreme vigilance will be needed so that we do not put our country at risk from future waves of this disease. Our society has already paid a significant price for the ground we have gained against this disease. As we move into the future, we must not lose that ground. The National Public Health Emergency Team is taking into account the expert advice of the World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the European Commission in developing public health criteria to guide our decisions. In order to move forward, we must have the capacity to measure the effects on the disease of any changes we might make and to be able to do so very quickly. We can do this if our actions are underpinned by an efficient sampling, testing and contact-tracing strategy and access to real-time epidemiological and clinical data. At every stage, we must watch the transmission of this disease. We must be confident that we have sufficient capacity. We are also fortunate that as some countries are at a more advanced stage of this pandemic, we can monitor that also. The truth is that we cannot act unless we see that the disease remains suppressed and achieving that, as I have said, is in the hands of each and every one of us. If we continue to make good progress we can begin to restart our economy and, most important, our society, and we can look forward to a time where there are no new cases and no new tragic deaths. We will have a roadmap for the next phase but we must continue to unite around a common purpose to stay safe and to protect each other.