An online campaign is funding flights home to Ireland for healthcare professionals living abroad who wish to return and assist with the frontline battle against Covid-19.
A group of Irish and Irish-American donors from the tech and business world have made available “a six-figure sum” to fund flights for doctors and nurses overseas and are also working to link healthcare staff with accommodation on their return.
The campaign, Answer Ireland’s Call, has already helped to bring “dozens” of medical professionals home from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, South America, and Malawi, according to businessman Neil Sands, who is among a handful of private sector donors involved.
Mr Sands said the campaign grew out of an offer last week to pay for flights for two doctors wishing to come back to Ireland and now has “international support”.
Calling all medical professionals abroad who want to return to the #IrelandVsCovid fight: WE WILL FLY YOU and WE WILL HOUSE YOU but we will never be able to THANK YOU enough. Please share RT this form and help us #AnswerIrelandsCall. Thank you, all. 🇮🇪 https://t.co/7slphyjVWP pic.twitter.com/6HW90SwYbM— Neil O. Sands (@neilosands) March 27, 2020
“We have helped to bring dozens home and there are still many people out there looking for assistance to get home, from places like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, South America, and from Malawi,” Mr Sands, who works in technology and design consulting, told the Irish Examiner.
“Flights are costing anywhere from €750 from London to €5,800 from Auckland so the spend varies but we have a group of very generous private sector donors and have sufficient funds to bring more healthcare professionals home,” he added.
The campaign is being run on twitter with the hashtag #AnswerIrelandsCall and through a dedicated website – www.AnswerIrelandsCall.com – which has received more than 1,000 queries for assistance to date.
The group of volunteers and donors are liaising with officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Irish travel firm Hannon Travel as well as Emerald Travel in Australia to get healthcare workers on flights home.
Thank you both, Dr. Aoife. Amazing to see more of our doctors on their way home to help Ireland fight #COVID19. We are very grateful to have you guys back to #AnswerIrelandsCall. Onward. ✈️ https://t.co/hB5rgtNiB5— Neil O. Sands (@neilosands) March 30, 2020
It is also trying to help returning health professionals with accommodation and is approaching Airbnb owners with a large number of properties.
Mr Sands said: “There are some very big Airbnb landlords with hundreds of properties and if we can convince them to offer their properties to these doctors that would be a huge dig out for the country. We’d be hoping that this could work on the basis that healthcare staff would stay for free but pay for utilities like heating, electricity, and wifi.”
The 38-year-old said people from all walks of life, from students to pensioners to small business owners, like My Sister's Closet and Stampify, are making donations or offering accommodation for frontline staff.
Mr Sands said:
"So we’re seeing everyone making a contribution,” he said, adding thanks to volunteers, Kevin Sands, Conor Hughes, and James Lawlor.
This is not Mr Sands' first time to launch an appeal in times of need. In 2015 when living in the US he was involved in raising funds to repatriate the six students, who lost their lives when their apartment balcony collapsed in Berkeley, California.
If there were time to stop and admire the endless, selfless acts of the extraordinary people we have on this island answering #IrelandsCall - we would take all day. We don’t have time, now but we will. Thank you. Onward. pic.twitter.com/gCnlBcGYWt— Neil O. Sands (@neilosands) March 28, 2020
The entrepreneur, who advises Fortune 500 companies like Disney on how they should design technology for their business, said the group can also help source personal protective equipment if needed.
“There is help out there in the private sector and if the public sector puts up its hand and asks for it we would give it in droves. Many businesses have contacts in Asia and can place orders for scrubs and masks or whatever is needed,” he said.