An online campaign focused on repatriating Irish doctors has welcomed its first arrival this morning. 

Marianne Hennigan, who had been working as a doctor in Australia for two-and-a-half years, had been stranded in New Zealand while travelling but landed home earlier today.

"I was starting to think that I was going to be stuck there for the foreseeable future," she said. "I am looking forward to getting back to work as soon as possible."

Dr Hennigan had been working as an emergency medicine registrar in Perth and has ICU and respiratory medicine experience.

She wanted to return to Ireland to assist with the response to Covid-19 but had trouble securing a return home as flights were cancelled and ticket prices soared.

She was finally able to fly into Dublin Airport this morning with the assistance of the AnswerIrelandsCall initiative, which aims to repatriate and accommodate more than 100 Irish doctors currently stranded abroad.


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Founder Neil Sands said returning doctors will help bolster the frontline when they return to Ireland.

"We're into the high teens now in terms of the number of tickets that we've bought and we're buying more every day," Mr Sands said.

"They've come from all over the world: Malawi, UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

"They can see the need that there is on the frontline and they're motivated by wanting to come home and help their own. There's people sleeping in Auckland airport right now waiting for a flight to become available."

He said volunteers are working around the clock to try and find flights for doctors stuck in other countries.

"It's also an uncertain time for everyone and I think people are coming home to be with their family," he said.

The organisation is also supporting the new arrivals and existing frontline staff with accommodation, which Mr Sands sees as tackling "both ends of the problem".

"As this thing progresses, more of the frontline will need to isolate. We will have a large number of folks working in the health service who will need to step out or isolate from their families," he said.

Mr Sands said Dr Hennigan will be provided housing near a Dublin hospital, while the initiative said it has also sourced housing in Cork and Galway.

"I'm delighted to be home - and absolutely exhausted. It was lovely to see my mum again at the airport," said Dr Hennigan.

"I had awful trouble getting home but Neil and the team have been fantastic. I just want to say a big thanks to them and everyone who has donated. I'm forever grateful, I wouldn't be here only for them."

She will now be isolating for two weeks.

"I also just want to say thank you to all the fantastic frontliners who have been here all along, and to the public for following the safety guidelines. It's a team effort," she added.

Mr Sands said accommodation for more than 100 healthcare workers has been sourced through individuals offering spare rooms or city centre hotels.

The accommodation can be used as a safe place for healthcare workers to self-isolate for 14 days.

"The public's help has really been allowing this to happen with donations through our website," he added.

He has seen people of different ages and financial backgrounds offering their homes or monthly wage. 

Other organisations have been helping healthcare workers with transport including e-bikes and rental cars.

Mr Sands, who was also president of the Irish Network Bay Area during the 2015 Berkeley tragedy, said it was indicative of the Irish spirit to want to help out.

"When things are at their worst, Irish people seem to pull together and be at their best. This is a great example of that," he said.

The initiative said it had raised more than €17,000 from its online public fundraiser.

"We've also had a handful of folks in the business and tech sectors that are supporting us as well up to the tune of six figures," he added.

Mr Sands, who has worked as an executive in Silicon Valley, initially offered to fly two doctors home from abroad and house them in Dublin.

"We got people asking from all over the world for help but there's more to it than buying a flight. We have to get around the logistics and policy issues of lockdown countries and the Department of Foreign Affairs has been helpful with that," he said.

He said anyone who wants to assist with the programme can visit AnswerIrelandsCall.com

"It has taken off in a way we didn't expect. A lot of people stood forward with me and it became the Ireland's Call initiative," he said.

The initiative expects to welcome 20 doctors in the coming week. 

"Everyone can get involved. It's like Feed the Heroes - Fly the Heroes I suppose."