Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that he was not told by the Health Service Executive of the decision to get some people who tested positive for Covid-19 to carry out their own contact tracing.

He told the Dáil that he got a text yesterday evening with an Irish Times article and that is when he first found out.

The HSE was due to ask people today, who received a positive Covid-19 test result last weekend, to alert their own close contacts.

Mr Martin said the HSE has now "reset the process" and it is managing all the contact tracing from yesterday again as per normal.

He said the HSE should be able to "get to everyone" within 24 hours and also told the Dáil that army personnel were still involved with contact tracing.

The Taoiseach said the idea was to create a permanent work force in terms of contact tracing, which he said was the only way to deal with a pandemic.

He said testing and tracing was important but it was not the primary shield and people must understand the importance of their own individual behaviours to stop the spread of the virus.

He was responding to Labour leader Alan Kelly, who asked him when he was made aware of the issue over contact tracing.

Deputy Kelly said that it was not suitable to send someone, who potentially has Covid-19, a text message and expect them to contact people.

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He said when there was an issue like this previously the last taoiseach called in the army and asked if tracing could be regulated and taken away from the HSE and done by a different regulatory body.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was hard to believe that eight months into the pandemic the test and trace system is still not adequate.

Also speaking in the Dáil, Ms McDonald said people who tested positive for Covid-19 are now being asked to do the job of a contact tracer and this is a recipe for infections being missed.

She said the bell alerting Government to this problem was rung loudly a fortnight ago.

"Failure to get this right will mean a cycle of damaging lockdowns," she said.

The Taoiseach said the contact tracing system has come under extreme pressure, particularly last weekend.

He said testing demand is being met and up to 19,000 swabs are being processed on a given day and more  than 120,000 tests are being carried out on a weekly basis.

He said there are 400 people employed in contact tracing and a further 220 will be hired soon and that the ultimate aim is to get to close to 1,000 tracers.

The Taoiseach said he is not happy with what happened at the weekend but there is not a system in the world that is not coming under pressure.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said she was shocked that the Taoiseach was informed by a text message about the contact tracing issue.

She said he should have been kept informed continuously by the Minister for Health.

Ms Murphy also said she did not have confidence in the recruitment company, which was hiring contact tracers, saying "this is not adding up. We need to get a grip on this."

In response Mr Martin said there was a "hell of lot of recruitment going on right now" and "we should have a briefing from HSE on this particular situation."

He said there was "no issue" with the Government providing "funding" and resources to hire contact tracers. 

Ireland part of EU vaccine deal

Mr Martin also said the Government is part of European Union efforts to find a vaccine for Covid-19.

He told the Dáil that Ireland was involved in an EU advanced purchase procurement agreement.

Mr Martin said that the EU is currently exploring additional options with additional vaccine manufacturers.

He said that it was about safe, affordable and effective vaccines.

However, he warned that a vaccine on its own is not a panacea and there would be challenges when it arrives,

The Taoiseach said that APC Pharmaceutical Research and Development company here has developed a manufacturing technology and is being supported by Enterprise Ireland, so if a vaccine is found they will be able to assist with global manufacturing.

He was responding to Independent TD Cathal Berry, who asked where Ireland stands in relation to supporting efforts to find a vaccine and if the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland was playing its part in efforts to find a vaccine.

In a post on Twitter ahead of the Level 5 restrictions coming into force, the Taoiseach said the measures are being done to "protect our families and the most vulnerable in our communities". 

Additional reporting Mícheál Lehane, David Murphy