Thousands of people have been told to buy PCR Covid tests costing up to €400 to allow them to leave the country this week after the Government’s Covid certificate helpline buckled under the demand of calls.
The delays have been branded as “completely unacceptable”, with assurances given only last week by officials that the technology was able to cope with the level of calls.
As a result of the logjams, fully vaccinated passengers due to leave the country in the coming days have been left with no choice but to get a PCR test as a “workaround”, with some paying several hundred euro.
With the return of non-essential travel on Monday, there were widespread complaints about not being able to access the helpline or being forced to wait several hours before an agent was available.
Minister of State for Transport Hildegarde Naughton accepted there were issues with the helpline.
“There have been issues with the helpline, but I can assure you the Government is working very hard in order to get that system back up and running as quickly as possible,” said Ms Naughton.
“This was the number one ask from the aviation sector that we can reopen international travel as safely as possible, adhering to public health guidance, so I would hope that that helpline will be back up and running as soon as possible.”
High call volume
A Department of Health spokesperson told The Irish Examiner that a high volume of calls were received on Monday, impacting on the ability of people to access the helpline.
“The Digital Covid Certificate Service Centre is currently handling a very high volume of calls and delays may be experienced by members of the public trying to contact the centre.
“We are currently working to increase the capacity of the service centre. The helpline number is 1800 851 504 and is for queries relating to your vaccination certificate and/or requesting your recovery certificate.”
In total, 22,500 passengers arrived at and departed Dublin Airport yesterday, 87 per cent less than pre-Covid levels for this same period in 2019. In 2019, Dublin Airport facilitated 116,000 people passing through the airport per day in peak season.
For the past two weeks, the daily average for arriving and departing passenger numbers was 14,000.
To date, over 1.1 million EU Digital Covid Certificates (DCC) have been emailed to people and over 600,000 have been posted.
Northern Ireland residents
Meanwhile politicians from across the island have urged the Government to provide clarity on when people from the North who hold Irish passports will be able to use the DCC.
Most Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland will not be able to access the certificate at first because they were vaccinated outside of the Republic.
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said the DCC is only available to those who were vaccinated by the HSE.
He added: “Irish passport holders vaccinated elsewhere will be given a certificate in ‘phase two’ of the rollout. At the moment, however, we don’t know when this will be.
“I have been informed that in the meantime, those vaccinated elsewhere can still travel if they show their proof of vaccination in the airport.
“I find the situation to be massively unclear and disappointing.
“I’ve raised this with the Taoiseach (Micheal Martin), Minister for Health (Stephen Donnelly) and my party colleagues, and I’ll continue to do so until we get clarity on this.”