Covid-19: Taoiseach unaware contact tracing had collapsed until reported in media

The Government has come under fire for failing to recruit an adequate number of contact tracers which means that patients are now being asked to carry out "DIY contract tracing".
Covid-19: Taoiseach unaware contact tracing had collapsed until reported in media

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that he was unaware of the issues until yesterday. Picture: Julien Behal

The Taoiseach only found out about a collapse in the Covid tracing system when it broke in the media.

Micheál Martin was not made aware that thousands of people who were diagnosed with Covid-19 over the weekend will now be asked to inform close contacts themselves as the system cannot cope.

The Government has come under fire in the Dáil for failing to recruit the adequate number of contact tracers to respond to demand which means that patients are now being asked to carry out "DIY contract tracing".

The leaders of Sinn Féin, Labour and the Social Democrats all rounded on the Taoiseach with Alan Kelly describing the situation as "bonkers".

Micheál Martin was not made aware that thousands of people who were diagnosed with Covid-19 over the weekend will now be asked to inform close contacts themselves as the system cannot cope.
Micheál Martin was not made aware that thousands of people who were diagnosed with Covid-19 over the weekend will now be asked to inform close contacts themselves as the system cannot cope.

More than 3,000 Covid-19 cases were confirmed over the weekend and these people were notified by text.

These patients will now receive a text today asking them to inform the people they were in contact with as the usual system is under significant pressure.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said the issue of contact tracing had been "endlessly" raised and claimed the "warning signs were there".

"It's hard to believe that we are nearly eight months into this pandemic and your government has still failed to get this right.

"You are asking people who have tested positive to do the job of a contact tracer and to give their contacts health advice. 

"I think this is a sure recipe for infections being missed and further outbreaks not being caught in time," she said.

The Taoiseach said "very substantial recruitment" is happening and said the number of contract tracers will increase to around 1,000 staff. 

He said 700 people have gone through the recruitment process and 220 new staff have started already.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly described the current situation around contact tracing as "bonkers."  Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Labour Party leader Alan Kelly described the current situation around contact tracing as "bonkers."  Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

When pressed on when he had first been made aware of the issues with tracing, Mr Martin told the Dáil: "I got a text last evening, which included the Irish Times article, that's when I found out, so I wasn't informed of the operational measure that the HSE undertook in response to the extraordinary demands that they were under at the weekend."

Mr Kelly said it was "extraordinary" that the Taoiseach was not informed of the serious issue, while Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said it was "not a minor deal" and Mr Martin should have been made aware of the serious problems with tracing.

Mr Kelly said: "How is it in any way sane or sensible to be sending people out text messages, some people could have Covid, could be in hospital, could be in intensive care for all we know, and asking them to contact people. I accept there are pressures, but this is bonkers. This is absolutely ridiculous."

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