Care home providers are calling for residents and staff to be tested for coronavirus every week after research suggested asymptomatic patients were continuing to spread the disease.
Sam Monaghan, chief executive of Methodist Homes (MHA), said the crisis in the sector would continue to burn because staff are unknowingly bringing the virus into care homes.
MHA has had at least one member of staff test positive in 20 out of its 28 homes, according to results from a Government pilot of whole-home testing,
Mr Monaghan told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘If you have got people walking around the home, interacting with others, then you are going to have that real risk of continuing to bring the infection in.
‘And with the relaxation of some of the lockdown measures out in the community then there could be the potential for some of our staff to then be more susceptible to picking up the virus and bringing it into our homes.
‘What we’re saying is either [test] once a week or once a fortnight. Some of the research that seems to have been done would suggest that weekly would be the most effective way.’
At least a quarter of the UK’s coronavirus victims have been care homes residents, statistics released this week by the Office for National Statistics revealed amid a growing scandal over the number of elderly people dying from the disease.
Between March 2 and May 1 there were 12,526 deaths in care homes where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, out of a total of 44,000 victims.
More than 340 care homes have announced outbreaks of COVID-19 in the past week, with four out of every 10 in the country saying they have had cases at some point.
The Government is under growing pressure to do more to keep the most vulnerable in society safe. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pledged to test every care home resident and staff member in England for coronavirus by ‘early June’.
Mr Monaghan added: ‘Just two weeks ago we had a home where there had been no infections throughout the whole of the pandemic.
‘We had a case develop in one of our residents, they started to show symptoms, they were tested and found to be positive.
‘None of the residents had been in or out of hospital, there was no other way that it could have come in and yet none of the staff were presenting any symptoms and at that point it was before the whole home-testing procedure was in.
‘There was a real reluctance to test staff, they were going to test the residents but they were not going to test the staff.
‘But that was the most highly likely way the infection could have come into the home.’
Weekly coronavirus-related deaths in care homes also fell to 1,666 in the week ending May 8.
This is the second weekly fall in a row, down from 2,423 deaths in the previous seven days – a decrease of 31 per cent.
But the proportion of coronavirus deaths taking place in care homes rose, with care home deaths accounting for 42.4 per cent of all the COVID-19 deaths, up from 40 per cent in the week from April 25 to May 1.
Officials have come under fire for not offering enough support to care home staff and residents at the beginning of the outbreak.
Bosses say homes were not given enough personal protective equipment, were given hospital patients who hadn’t been tested for the virus.
It emerged this week that untested temporary staff may have been inadvertently spreading the illness in the sector’s scramble to fill vacancies left by workers in self-isolation.