COVID LATEST Tánaiste says an 'army bigger than our actual army' needed to contact trace up to 7,000 people every day
Leo Varadkar admits keeping up with the infection rate is proving difficult, but he tells the Dáil a ‘systems failure’ is not the reason Ireland is experiencing a second wave
Ireland would need an “army” of contact tracers even bigger than the Defence Forces to track down the close associates of everyone now becoming infected with Covid-19, the Tánaiste has told the Dáil.
Addressing claims that the track-and-trace system has collapsed, forcing higher levels of public restrictions, Leo Varadkar said: “We are now trying to contact trace 1,000 people’s contacts nearly every day.”
It was “really tough” on the people manning the phones in an attempt to do so, he said.
“If we’re going to have a couple of hundred or 1,000 positives a day, and everyone has six or seven contacts, that’s 7,000 people a day we need contact-traced.
“You need an army of people - probably an army bigger than our actual army - to trace that many people every day.”
There are an estimated 14,000 people in the combined Defence Forces.
Wexford TD Verona Murphy, representing the Regional Group, said the virus had spiralled out of control because the Government had failed to put a system in place for contact tracing when the numbers were low.
“That's why we have a resurgence,” she said. “It’s a total systems failure in contact tracing, which is the most basic, elementary and logistical solution.
“Contact tracing is the real reason that we're moving to Level 4. There is a total systems failure.”
Mr Varadkar said: “The best thing we can do to help our labs, our doctors, our contact tracers, medical scientists and all of the people who are helping to keep this virus at bay is to follow the public health advice.”
People should reduce their contacts “to the minimum possible while still living a normal, realistic life”, he said.
Ms Murphy said her understanding was that in June, as the country began to open up, a system of ‘test, trace and isolate’ would begin in earnest.
But as a result of an ineffective system of contact tracing, she was being inundated with calls, she said, giving the example of a GAA player in Wexford who later tested positive, but who hadn’t been contact traced from another case for six days.
She added: “His girlfriend, who he lives with, works in a nursing home… that nursing home is now infected.”
Mr Varadkar said: “I understand the argument that you’re making and I can even understand the desire to seek to wish to blame someone for the fact that we are now experiencing a second wave of the virus.
“But I don’t think the argument that you make - that it is down to failures of testing and tracing - really stacks up.”
He gave international examples of a second wave.
“Look at Denmark, a country doing three times as much testing as us. Guess what - they’re experiencing a second wave, with a similar incidence of the virus to what we have.
“Take Germany. They handled the first wave really well and were extraordinarily impressive in terms of ability to test, trace and isolate people.
“But Germany just recorded a record number of cases, the highest ever, higher than even during the first wave. So, you know, this is happening all across Europe. All of Europe is experiencing a second wave, and pretty much every country is now recording record case numbers - despite the best efforts of their governments, their populations, and the health authorities.”
The movement of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal to Level 4 had been “a bitter blow” to their populations, he said, as was a ban placed on household visits nationwide.
He told Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty: “People who live in any other county shouldn’t get the wrong impression. They should not take any comfort from the fact that the rules are stricter in these three counties.
“This virus is circulating in the community, in every county in Ireland. And we need to see it that way, and understand that that’s the case,” he said.
The Tánaiste insisted citizens had to make sure they complied with public health advice and changed their behaviour “in every part of Ireland and all 32 counties”.