"A month ago we had over 7,000 cases in one day, happily we are down to 7,000 cases a week."

Dr Jennifer Martin was instrumental in setting up the information technology for Ireland's contact tracing system, which identifies anyone who has been in contact with someone with Covid-19.

We met in the old eir building near to Dublin’s Heuston Station, which is now empty apart from the two floors occupied by HSE contact tracers.

"It all started down in the basement of Dr Steevens' Hospital, now one year later we have a super professional workforce," said Dr Martin.

There are 800 contact tracers based around the country. This particular centre opened in December just as Ireland was entering the third wave of Covid-19 infections.

Among the contact tracers working here is Maeve Liston, a physiotherapist and rugby player with the Ireland Sevens.

She said a lot of people are "quite shocked and upset" when they get a call from her.

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Francis Richardson retired as a midwife 18 months ago, but then applied to be a contact tracer out of a sense of duty.

"I felt the need to come back and utilise my skills in this pandemic."

She explained: "Covid is an illness and there is a lot of fear. Sometimes we are the only caller that person may have got that day but we are here to support them."

The surge in coronavirus cases after Christmas overwhelmed the system and contact tracers could no longer call every close contact, so text messages were sent instead.

The system can manage 1,500 cases a day. This equates to around 10,000 calls a day, when close contacts are included.


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Now that the number of daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 has dropped the service can gather more "fulsome information".

"That surveillance information is what helps public health doctors, policy and decision makers understand what's happening with Covid and how sick people are," explained Dr Jennifer Martin.

Overseeing the operation of this contact tracing centre is Dearbhla De Lasa, who said this time around, contact tracers are talking to a lot of younger people.

"That’s very different to what we’ve seen before," she said. "There’s a lot of mums and dads in hospital, in their mid 30s and 40s, with young kids at home."

One of the main concerns at present is that asymptomatic people are not self-isolating.

In one case, a man who received a text to say he was Covid positive subsequently told a contact tracer that he continued to go to work, in a retail setting, because he was not feeling unwell.

He also went to a house party. The result was that many more people became infected.

Wayne Younge, a contact tracer with a background in radiography, explained that isolating from others in the same house is also a difficulty for some, particularly those living in crowded accommodation.

"If you have to wash your dishes, then text everybody in the house," he said.

"Ask them to stay in their room for 30 minutes because you’re going to be loading the dishwasher and cleaning your dishes."

The number of close contacts has dropped because of the Level 5 restrictions in place.

However, Covid-19 is still managing to spread primarily in homes and healthcare settings.