Callers to Covid helpline still waiting over 90 minutes for help

Callers to Covid helpline still waiting over 90 minutes for help

With many opting to use the digital Covid certificate to access hospitality, the Department of Health helpline remained under pressure on Monday. File picture: Colin Keegan/ Collins Dublin

More than 3,000 pubs and restaurants opened to customers indoors for the first time in 2021 on Monday, but the helpline designed to help people get the certificates which will allow them access bars and restaurants continued to suffer long delays.

Under the new rules, indoor dining is open for the fully vaccinated and those who have had Covid-19 in the past six months. Those under 18 can also attend along with families or guardians who are vaccinated.

A maximum of six people over the age of 13 are allowed at one table. This limit does not include children aged 12 or younger, however, the overall capacity at one table cannot exceed 15.

Under the new rules, indoor dining is open for the fully vaccinated and those who have had Covid-19 in the past six months. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Under the new rules, indoor dining is open for the fully vaccinated and those who have had Covid-19 in the past six months. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

However, with many opting to use the digital Covid certificate to access hospitality, the Department of Health helpline remained under pressure on Monday.

A statement from the department said the line has handled 10,500 of the 126,000 calls it has received since last week, despite the number of agents going up to 85 on Friday.

The voice response has been amended so callers are now given additional information or options if needed, while the recovery certificate portal opened late last week and has handled more than 5,300 requests since Friday, the department said.

"We are working to continuously improve the service offered to members of the public and, as with the recovery certificate portal, we are examining the introduction of additional self-service and automation in the coming weeks.

Average waiting times over the week are above 90 minutes, and average handling time is just under nine minutes. Call agents are working from 150 scripts, given the unique and complex the queries presenting."

Despite warnings over the reopening, the Government is not considering closing indoor hospitality if there is a spike in cases, according to the Agriculture Minister.

Charlie McConalogue said the Cabinet was confident the new guidelines in place would mean indoor dining can be opened safely.

Mr McConalogue said the vaccination programme would mean there was less risk involved.

"We're not looking at that [closing] because each step we've taken has been very considered in advance, with the objective that we don't have to take any step retracing the steps backwards," he said.

"So obviously we're seeing what's happening in other European countries, particularly the increased numbers and in the UK over the last number of weeks, and indeed in Northern Ireland.

We have been able to monitor that and we've made the decision in light of increasing numbers but at the same time, only taking steps which, we believe, protect people who are vaccinated and minimise the risk of transmission to those that are not."

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has urged the public to remain careful in the coming weeks.

Speaking in Cork, he said: “We have made good progress in the last six months in reopening sectors of society, so we want to protect that progress.

“The ideal scenario is a continued rollout of the vaccination programme, combined with sensible, precautionary behaviour on all our part. That’s where we can defeat this virus.”

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