Young medical students will be among the contact tracers working over the holiday season to track a rapidly rising number of cases.
There are 25 second- and third-year students at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland who have volunteered to work alongside HSE contact tracers. They are currently being trained and are expected to start work immediately after Christmas.
A spokeswoman said: “RCSI is delighted to support this volunteer effort and is very proud of our students who are making a considerable commitment over their holiday period. It provides an opportunity for our students to make a real and immediate difference in a safe way.”
The students will work in the Eir building in Dublin.
The need for more contact tracers was clear this week as cases soared to more than 700.
Rising cases in the UK were blamed on a new variant of the virus and the head of Food BioSciences at Teagasc, Professor Paul Cotter, said: “It could be in Ireland but we won’t know for certain until it is identified by DNA sequencing.
“Sequencing of newly acquired samples will be taking place over the next few days and that should provide more information.”
There is early evidence to show this variant is more easily transmitted, he said, but further research is being carried out in the UK on that now.
However, he added:
Meanwhile, the HSE has begun texting the close contacts of some confirmed cases suggesting that they set up their own appointment for a virus test using a weblink.
The new system, which went live on Wednesday morning after a number of days in development, saw 300 test appointments made within the first number of hours.
It’s understood that such texts will not be used for approaching close contacts of confirmed cases from flights or within schools, while people who fail to acknowledge the text will receive a follow-up phone call.
“It’s horrifying,” a source said. “Whoever had this idea has clearly never made a call to a close contact, and heard all the nuances that come up and the amount of questions they will have.”
The HSE had not replied to a query on the new system at the time of publication.