Taoiseach learned of contact tracing breakdown by text after media reports
Micheal Martin added he ‘wasn’t informed’ HSE had asked people who contracted Covid-19 to inform their own close contacts.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin has said he only became aware of a breakdown in the contact tracing system when it was reported in the media.
Mr Martin said he received a text message on Tuesday informing him of the issue with a link to the article in which it was first reported.
The HSE is to ask around 2,500 people who received a positive Covid-19 test at the weekend to alert their own close contacts, as reported by the Irish Times.
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday, Mr Martin said: “I got a text last evening which included the Irish Times article, that’s when I first knew.
“I wasn’t informed of this operational measure that the HSE undertook in response to the extraordinary demands they were under at the weekend in the context of the community tracing.”
Contact tracing collapsed at the weekend. Without an efficient, effective tracing system we face a continuous cycle of lockdowns. We need 24 hour turnaround for testing & tracing. Govt must plan & deliver that system over the next 6 weeks. #COVID19 #LockdownIreland— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) October 21, 2020
The Taoiseach did not respond when asked when Health Minister Stephen Donnelly had become aware of the issue.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said it is “extremely alarming” the situation emerged “on the eve of another lockdown”.
She said the Government should have been aware there were issues in the contact tracing system, as they had been flagged by healthcare professionals.
She cited Dr Ann Dee, a consultant in Public Health Medicine in the midlands, who raised concerns a fortnight ago.
Ms McDonald told the Dail: “She said we can’t cope with the volume of work, there are not enough of us. She said outbreaks will be missed and the situation will get worse.”
The Sinn Fein leader called on the Government to target a 24-hour turnaround in contact tracing by the end of the six-week lockdown.
She added: “Failure to get this right will result in a series of damaging lockdowns with all of the hardships that entails.
“The reality is that we have to lock down when the virus is out of control, and we lose control of the virus when testing and tracing doesn’t work.”
I accept there are pressures, but this is bonkers, this is absolutely ridiculous, TaoiseachAlan Kelly, Labour Party leader
Labour leader Alan Kelly criticised the HSE’s decision to ask people who have tested positive for Covid-19 to alert their own close contacts.
He said: “How is it anyway sane or sensible to be sending out text messages, some people who could have Covid, who could be hospital, who could be in intensive care for all we know. And asking them to contact people?
“I accept there are pressures, but this is bonkers, this is absolutely ridiculous, Taoiseach.”
The Taoiseach said the contact tracing system has come under “extreme pressure in recent days and particularly over the weekend”.
He said efforts are under way to increase recruitment and double the number of contact tracers currently employed.
He said: “Recruitment has been ongoing, there’s 400 actually employed in contact tracing now. There will be 220 before the end of next week added and there will be ongoing additions.
“They want to bring in about 60 to 70 new staff every week on the contact tracing side. Ultimately it will get somewhere close to 800 contact tracers.”
On Wednesday the National Public Health Emergency Team confirmed three more people had died of Covid-19 and a further 1,167 people had tested positive for the virus.
Of the new cases, 263 were in Dublin, 142 in Meath, 137 in Cork, 86 in Cavan and the remaining 539 were spread across the rest of the country.
As of 2pm on Wednesday, 314 people were in hospital with the virus, including 34 in intensive care.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said the behaviour of every individual is the “most effective defence” against the spread of Covid-19.
“Everyone needs to stay at home, other than for essential reasons,” he said.
“Follow the public health advice and treat everyone that you come into contact with as though they are a close contact of someone with Covid-19 – keep your distance, avoid meeting others.
“We are facing a big challenge, but we have faced this challenge before, and that means we know how to suppress this virus, by following the public health advice in everything we do.”