DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s system for tracing contacts of COVID-19 cases has been overwhelmed by a surge in cases forcing the health service in recent days to advise infected individuals to identify their own close contacts and tell them to get tested, officials said.
The government earlier this year hired hundreds of people to quickly contact those who test positive, identify people they had close contact with in the preceding days, and tell those people to self-isolate and get tested.
But a surge in infections that has almost tripled the five-day case average in Ireland since the start of October to just under 1,200 per day, meant there were no longer enough officials to make the necessary calls, the Health Service Executive said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
“We have seen unprecedented demand on the contact tracing centres with the exponential growth in the number of cases and over the week we simply couldn’t get to everyone,” Niamh O’Beirne, national lead for testing and tracing, told RTE radio.
Most of those who were informed of infections on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be asked to identify and contact their own close contacts and advise them to self-isolate and ask their doctors about arranging a free test, she said.
The Health Service Executive, which plans to add up to 800 people to its current staff of 400 contact tracers, said the normal system resumed for those informed of infections on Monday.
As a result of the surge in cases, Ireland on Monday imposed some of Europe’s toughest COVID-19 constraints, shutting non-essential retail outlets, closing restaurants and limiting non-essential travel.
Ireland on Tuesday had the 13th highest rate among the 31 countries monitored by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, with 253 cases per 100,000 over the past 14 days.
(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Catherine Evans)