Taoiseach says Covid certs not a ‘mess’, as less than 10% of calls to hotline dealt with

Number of call centre workers to be increased as 40,000 call helpline in two days

An EU Digital Covid Certificate pictured at Dublin Airport. An Oireachtas committee was told today of ‘unprecedented’ demand for a helpline dealing with queries over the cert. Photograph: Collins

An EU Digital Covid Certificate pictured at Dublin Airport. An Oireachtas committee was told today of ‘unprecedented’ demand for a helpline dealing with queries over the cert. Photograph: Collins

 

The Taoiseach has denied that the process of issuing digital Covid certificates is a mess, after it was reported that fewer than 3,000 people out of more than 40,000 who called a helpline over the last two days with a query about them had their queries dealt with.

People with queries regarding their Covid cert for travel have been urged not to contact the call centre unless they are due to go abroad in the next 10 days.

There had been “unprecedented” demand on the helpline according to senior Government official Liz Canavan.

On Wednesday evening, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin was asked if the process around the issuing of Covid-19 certificates had been a mess. He strongly disputed that characterisation.

“We have 2.1 million Covid certs. That’s not a mess, it’s a significant administrative achievement to get so many Covid certs out there.

“The call centre has been overwhelmed by a variety of calls, some necessary and not so necessary.

“(But) the fact that so many DCC has issued represent significant progress indeed.”

He said there was an administrative challenge and also accepted that wrong spellings on certs for Irish language names was “not satisfactory”.

Capacity

Ms Canavan made her remarks at the Oireachtas Committee on Health on Wednesday morning, where TDs and Senators were given an update on the rollout of more than 2.1 million Covid certs for fully vaccinated people.

She said there were more than 40,000 calls over Monday and Tuesday but the committee was told that just 2,826 of these were directly handled by agents.

The lack of capacity in the system was criticised by Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane.

The committee heard the call centre opened with 55 staff but that 30 more are being added on Wednesday and there will be more than 100 next week.

Ms Canavan said the call centre was set up at an “exceptional pace” and capacity could not have been built any faster.

She said: “We know there have been very long waiting times for many callers and the centre has not been able to meet the level of demand which involved over 40,000 calls in the last two days and over 34,000 calls yesterday alone.”

Assessment

Ms Canavan, an assistant secretary general at the Department of the Taoiseach, said the volume of calls “far exceeds estimates of call centre demand based on an assessment of travel bookings and survey or insights data on travel intentions that Government or industry have access to.”

She said the call centre was dealing with complex queries with more than 150 scripts being developed to assist agents answer queries and as they become more familiar with the complexities of queries “we anticipate that number of calls handled will increase”.

She said there were “technical capacity issues” on Monday, and capacity was increased from Tuesday morning through a second freephone number that will cater for a significantly higher number of calls.

However, she said the call volumes were “unprecedented” and the call centre remained “exceptionally busy”.

She urged people to call only if it is “urgent” and they are planning to travel in the next ten days.

Ms Canavan said the “demand suggests that many people are calling that are not due to travel in the short-term.

“These non-urgent calls are adding very significant wait times to all calls, and preventing many urgent calls from getting through.”

She said the centre can only support queries in relation to vaccination certificates and recovery certificates but it was getting calls from people with requests for certificates for PCR or antigen tests.

She said people get these certificates from third party providers and details of how that system works was available ongov.ie/travel.

Complex requests

She said many of the 2,826 calls handled on Monday and Tuesday involved complex multiple requests involving the details of whole families.

The committee was told that 1,058 certificate details have been sent for re-generation and it is expected these will be reissued within five days.

A further 731 queries have been sent to HSE requiring further investigation before a certificate can be issued.

There will be a new online form to request recovery certificates for eligible persons to be released this week.

Ms Canavan said: “We regret the delays some people are experiencing and are learning and continuing to improve the service each day.”

She asked people who have not received DCCs yet to wait a few more days if they are not travelling in the short term.

“We absolutely appreciate that any member of the public who has not yet received a certificate or has an error on the certificate that may need to be corrected may be anxious.

“However, we are satisfied that we will be in a position to resolve queries quickly and unless you need certificate urgently we would encourage people to wait a few more days.”

Mr Cullinane criticised the failure to anticipate the demand and told Ms Canavan: “I’m not putting all of this on you. What I’m saying is the communication on this has been absolutely appalling.”

He added: “People anticipated they could make a call and get a response and it hasn’t happened.”

Mr Cullinane asked about the 2,826 calls that were actually handled on Monday.

Ms Canavan said: “that number of calls processed as in they spoke to agent and had their query specifically dealt with.”

She said there will also be people who got information as part of the automated voice system but she could not provide a breakdown of how many people.

Mr Cullinane said: “I think we can take it for granted that 2,826 people had their calls processed and had the information. I would imagine there are thousands that did not.”