Extra helpline added to clear 'unacceptable' backlog of Digital Covid Certificate issues

Extra helpline added to clear 'unacceptable' backlog of Digital Covid Certificate issues

The Mills family, dad Mark, mum Isabelle, and daughter Kira, in Terminal 1 at Dublin Airport as travel restrictions in and out of the country were lifted. 

The Government is moving this morning to deal with major backlogs in its Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) helpline.

An extra helpline on the DCC will be in place from this morning so it will be able to take a far higher number of calls, senior government sources have said.

As a result, they say the person ringing will not get the call failed message.

The number to contact for the new DCC helpline is 1800 807 008.

Thousands of people have been told to buy PCR tests costing up to €400 to allow them to leave the country this week after the Government’s Covid cert helpline buckled under the demand of calls.

The delays have been branded as “completely unacceptable”, with assurances given only last week by officials that the technology was able to cope with the level of calls.

As a result of the logjams, fully vaccinated or recovered Covid-19 passengers due to leave the country in the coming days have been left with no choice but to seek to get a PCR test as a “workaround”, with some paying several hundred euro.

With the return of non-essential travel yesterday, there were widespread complaints about not being able to access the helpline or being forced to wait several hours before an agent was available.

Junior transport minister Hildegarde Naughton accepted there were issues with the helpline.

"There have been issues with the helpline, but I can assure you the Government is working very hard in order to get that system back up and running as quickly as possible," said Ms Naughton.

"This was the number one ask from the aviation sector that we can reopen international travel as safely as possible, adhering to public health guidance, so I would hope that that helpline will be back up and running as soon as possible."

The government had a "difficult day" in dealing with the calls, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said.

He accepted the staff numbers on in the call-centre was not sufficient to meet the high demand from the public who have been experiencing long delays and disconnections when attempting to retrieve their certs to allow them to travel.

He said the establishment of the second helpline should ease the pressure.

High volume of calls

A Department of Health spokesperson told the  Irish Examiner that a high volume of calls was being received yesterday and it was impacting on the ability of people to access the helpline. 

Evelyn Harrington, (left) originally from Rochestown, Cork, heading back to Jamaica after 9 months in Cork and her sister Gillian Quinlan, Blackrock, Cork, going on a holiday to Jamaica from Cork Airport.
Evelyn Harrington, (left) originally from Rochestown, Cork, heading back to Jamaica after 9 months in Cork and her sister Gillian Quinlan, Blackrock, Cork, going on a holiday to Jamaica from Cork Airport.

"The Digital Covid Certificate Service Centre is currently handling a very high volume of calls and delays may be experienced by members of the public trying to contact the centre.

“We are currently working to increase the capacity of the service centre. The helpline number is 1800 851 504 and is for queries relating to your vaccination certificate and/or requesting your recovery certificate."

However, this response was rejected by the Opposition, who said the failure to cope was “causing mayhem”.

“It is completely unacceptable that this has happened when assurances were given that all of the technology was in place and the capacity was there,” said Labour Party transport spokesman Duncan Smith.

“As a result, people who are due to fly out this week are scrambling to get a PCR test, which could cost up to €400 both ways.” 

In total, 22,500 passengers arrived at and departed Dublin Airport yesterday, 87% less than pre-Covid levels for this same period in 2019. In 2019, Dublin Airport facilitated 116,000 people passing through the airport per day in peak season.

For the past two weeks, the daily average for arriving and departing passenger numbers was 14,000.

Travel cert 'working well'

Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson said the EU digital travel cert was working well and will gradually become part of the travel experience, like presenting a passport.

To date, over 1.1m certificates have been emailed to people and over 600,000 have been posted.

Mary Delaney, West Waterford, leaving Cork Airport for a family visit in the UK.
Mary Delaney, West Waterford, leaving Cork Airport for a family visit in the UK.

The Government has been urged to provide clarity on when people from the North who hold Irish passports will be able to use the new EU digital Covid cert. Most Irish passport holders in the North will not be able to access the cert at first because they were vaccinated outside of the Republic; currently, the cert is only available to those who were vaccinated by the HSE.

“Irish passport holders vaccinated elsewhere will be given a certificate in phase two of the rollout," said Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond. "At the moment, however, we don’t know when this will be. I have been informed that in the meantime, those vaccinated elsewhere can still travel if they show their proof of vaccination in the airport.

“I’ve raised this with the Taoiseach, the minister for health, and my party colleagues, and I’ll continue to do so until we get clarity on this.” 

Meanwhile, it is expected President Michael D Higgins will on Wednesday sign the bill to allow the return of indoor hospitality from next Monday.

The Department of Health confirmed 1,071 new cases of Covid-19. There are 101 patients in hospital, with 20 of these in ICU, down two on Sunday.

With the vaccination programme now well advanced, the link between cases and hospitalisations has been weakened but public health officials continue to monitor the situation.

 

 

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