The Health Service Executive has promised that in eight weeks' time it will have 800 contact tracers recruited to deal with Covid-19.

However, in a statement to RTÉ News, the HSE said that "this process must happen incrementally to ensure supervision and support is provided to the newly trained recruits until they are fully operational".

There are currently 550 staff working in the HSE's national contact tracing centres.

The HSE said that the current recruitment process will generate 1,000 staff in total.

Around the start of the pandemic, in March and April, the HSE had around 2,000 people trained in contact tracing, with a core 600 doing the work, at around nine contact tracing centres.

A large number of health staff were redeployed from their original health posts to assist in this work.

In June and July, the service was reduced to a contact tracing centre in Galway, due to the reduced number of cases being reported then.

Since the resurgence in cases in August and September, the HSE has increased contact tracing staff.

Up to late last week, the current number of contact tracing staff was 550, and in addition, the HSE has availed of 60 army cadets supporting contact tracing for one week.

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Last week, HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said: "40% of resources that have to be recruited must be from allied health professionals.

"It is not a contact call centre. It is a clinical call that is the first call, and over the last number of weeks the nature of cases are increasingly complex and calls are taking much longer."

He apologised to people who were told to alert their own close contacts after they tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend of 17 October, following a surge in cases.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it was a one-off situation where demand outstripped supply and a one-off operational decision was made to reset the system. 

Borders as a first line of defence

The Chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University has said when we reflect back on the response to Covid-19, one of the biggest mistakes will be the lack of border checks and using borders as the first line of defence against this virus.

Professor Devi Sridhar told RTÉ's News at One that those countries that brought in travel restrictions early on have prevented the virus seeding and those who have maintained them have prevented the re-seeding of that virus.

She said a choice needs to be made at a European level, on whether you live with restrictions in your daily life or do you close your borders, as has been done in Asia and the Pacific, but you get your daily life back.

Prof Sridhar said countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore, Australia and New Zealand have joint travel bubbles.

She said these countries sorted their public health problem, "got their domestic economies going and then started to support the aviation industry through travel bubbles".

Prof Sridhar said if this were implemented in Ireland and the UK, then there would need to be a two-island strategy because of the land borders, to make decisions on how to drive down levels, while providing testing at airports.

Hospital figures on the rise

HSE figures show there are 354 people in hospitals with confirmed Covid-19. Of these 38 are in intensive care.

The hospitals with the largest number of patients are: Cork University Hospital 30; Cavan General Hospital 27; Tallaght University Hospital 26; Beaumont 25 and Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown with 24.

Yesterday, the Chief Medical Officer urged people to comply with the public health advice around self-isolating and restricting movements.

Dr Tony Holohan said there are "too many stories" of people having Covid-19 symptoms or who are waiting on test results who are not self-isolating, and people who are contacts but are not restricting their movements.

He added that self-isolating means staying indoors completely and avoiding contact with other people, including the people you live with.

His comments came after the Department of Health announced an additional 939 new cases of Covid-19 were notified to it this evening, while three further deaths were also recorded.

It brings the total number of deaths linked to the virus to 1,885, and the overall number of cases to 58,067.

The 14-day incidence rate of the virus nationally now stands at 309.9.