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Health Minister tells FF TDs that contact tracing 'didn't collapse', and asking patients to contact trace is 'one-off'

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that the HSE has been repeatedly asked whether it has enough contact-tracing capacity.

Image: Sasko Lazarov

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has told the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting that Ireland’s contact tracing system “didn’t collapse”, after the HSE revealed that it would need to ask patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 to contact trace their own close contacts.

It emerged late last night that the HSE would be asking more than 2,000 people who received a positive Covid-19 test result on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to alert their own close contacts that they will need a test due to “unprecedented pressure” on Ireland’s contact tracing system.

The HSE said it will send a text message to 2,000-2,500 people today, asking them to inform their own close contacts that they should restrict their movements and contact their GP “immediately” to arrange a test.

Donnelly described the decision to ask patients to contact trace their own contacts as a “one-off” to his Fianna Fáil colleagues.

There was growing anger in government circles today that ministers, senior officials and the Taoiseach first heard about the contact tracing issue through the media. 

Meanwhile, at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said that it was “very unfair” of the HSE to “dump” on GPs the responsibility to resolve the testing and tracing fallout. 

GPS said they have been “inundated” with calls from people who believe they are a close contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case, after the HSE’s revelation.

He told the members that multiple times in meetings, the HSE would have been asked if they had enough contact tracers, and that the HSE answered that they did.

He also told Fine Gael TDs that ministers were told the HSE could pull the redeployed staff back quickly if needed, and that no request for resources for testing or tracing was ever refused by Government.

On moving to Level 5, it understood the Tánaiste said there could be calls from some advocating for a zero-Covid response for the lockdown to be extended into December, however, the Taoiseach has made it clear that Ireland will not be following that strategy.

He also said a third lockdown in January is “not inevitable” if the situation can be controlled. Sources state he said these restrictions – some of the strongest in Europe – are “our one last best shot”.

Varadkar also said he feared there would be a “mental health epidemic” when the pandemic is over.

Former minister and Mayo TD Michael Ring also told the party meeting that he cannot support any move to fine people who breach the 5km restrictions.

He said the government is expecting people to follow its rules but it cannot get its own house in order, citing the problems with contact tracing.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Health Minister both said today that they found out about the contact tracing problem from media reports.

You can read more about the detail from the two parties’ parliamentary meetings here.

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With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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