Ronnie Fay of Pavee Point made the call for comprehensive free health coverage after fresh figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC). They show Travellers account for three-quarters of all viral outbreaks in at-risk groups since the start of the third wave.
There have been 355 such outbreaks among socially excluded groups in congregated settings, amounting to 3,863 cases.
The largest share of these outbreaks is among the Traveller community, members of whom account for four fifths of all infections and nine out of ten hospitalisations within the category.
Officially, there have been eight deaths among Travellers since last October, which Pavee Point believes is an undercount, saying it knows of at least 15 since the crisis began.
In the most recent reporting window – the last week of March – there were 21 outbreaks and 112 cases among the Traveller population, according to Junior Health Minister Frankie Feighan.
Ms Fay said Pavee Point recognised that further infections, and possibly even deaths, could be happening because a minority of Travellers were defying public health advice and that of the organisation in order to attend funerals.
“There is a culture within the Traveller community that there is a lack of respect shown if you do not attend a funeral,” she said.
“Some Travellers do not do as they are asked – but then look at the Dublin GAA team. There are people who are supposedly better educated and better informed who do not behave responsibly.”
Mr Feighan said the high incidence of Covid outbreaks among Travellers was “concerning,” and agreed it reflected living conditions but also “the tradition of family and communal events, such as funerals and christenings”.
The HSE has prioritised Travellers in terms of detection, case management and contact tracing.
But Ms Fay said patients faced being asked the question of whether the infected person was a member of the Travelling community and some may not be co-operating with such questions “because there is an embedded racism towards Travellers”, she said,
“We have asked that all Travellers be given a medical card given the health inequality they experience,” she added.
“Not everyone faces the same risk from Covid. It is clear from the data that the impact on homeless and addiction (categories) has been less than expected.”
In the area of addiction, there have been 10 outbreaks involving 60 cases. Among the homeless, the figures show 24 outbreaks and 163 cases.
And among the Roma community, there have been 11 outbreaks and 72 cases.