Republic's digital Covid-19 vaccine certificate helpline swamped by ‘unprecedented demand'
An under-pressure helpline on the Digital Covid Certificate has dealt with fewer than 3,000 of the 40,000-plus queries it has received in 48 hours, a senior Government official has said.
Liz Canavan said the service designed to assist people intending to travel with the EU vaccination certification had experienced “unprecedented demand” since Monday, when non-essential international journeys in and out of Ireland became allowed again.
She told the Oireachtas’s health committee that call handlers had been swamped with in excess of 40,000 calls on Monday and yesterday, more than 34,000 of which were made yesterday.
Of those, Ms Cavanan said 2,826 had been dealt with.
The committee was told that capacity within the centre is to be doubled in the coming days, with 55 call handlers being increased to more than 100 by next week.
The certs show that the holder is fully vaccinated, has tested negative for Covid-19, or has recovered from the disease.
During today’s briefing from senior officials involved in developing and roll outing the Irish version of the EU certs, TDs and senators on the committee were told than 2.1 million had been issued in Ireland to date.
Ms Canavan said people should only call the helpline if their queries were urgent or if they were travelling within the next 10 days.
“We know that there have been 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,” she said.
“This far exceeds estimates of call centre demand based on assessment of travel bookings and survey or insights data on travelling intentions that government or industry has access to.
“It’s also important to say that unlike many industry call centres these are complex queries, with over 150 scripts being developed to assist agents to answer callers’ queries.
“It is also the case that the rapid issuing of 2.1 million certs in just over one week has inevitably bunched enquiries to the centre in these initial few days.”
During her appearance, Ms Canavan was asked to address uncertainty over whether the DCC was essential for travel within the EU.
Concerns have been raised after it emerged that travellers visiting Malta must produce a DCC to avoid quarantine, with written vaccination cards or negative test results not being accepted.
Ms Canavan made clear that people could travel within the bloc without a DCC, however she highlighted that some member states had differing rules in relation to entry.
“It should be noted that the EU Digital Covid Certificate is not a travel document and the possession of an EU Digital Covid Certificate will not be a precondition to exercise free movement rights,” she said.
“Therefore, travellers who do not have a Digital Covid Certificate can provide other verifiable forms of proof of vaccination, or a valid negative test.
“You will be aware of media reports in respect of travellers who have travelled to EU countries without a Digital Covid Certificate. The Department of Foreign Affairs has been liaising with authorities in Malta and has been in direct contact with a number of affected citizens.
“Our understanding is that Malta has indicated that the Digital Covid Certificate is a requirement on the Re-open EU webpage and they have indicated that they will not accept hand written certification.”
Ms Canavan said the situation in Malta highlighted the need for travellers to familiarise themselves with the specific requirements for their country of destination.