Information on potential close contacts in nightclubs not being collected as tracers told to focus on ‘priority areas’

The HSE’s contact tracing team has not been collecting information on potential close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases in live music venues or nightclubs.

he news comes as the Government is examining new supports for the industry as performers including Christy Moore cancel concerts due to new restrictions on capacity in venues.

The HSE said its contact management programme has “experienced an extremely high sustained demand” since restrictions on night life were eased in October.

Contact tracers have been told to focus their work on “priority areas” which include special education, nursing homes, residential care facilities and members of the Travelling and Roma communities.

“As a result, we are not currently collating information on nightclubs and music venues,” the HSE said in response to a parliamentary question from Social Democrat TD Gary Gannon.

The HSE said if an outbreak is identified in a nightclub or music venue, it is managed by the relevant regional Public Health teams who undertake a Public Health risk assessment.

Mr Gannon said it is “beyond a joke” that the contact tracing information is not being collected given the “administrative burden” placed on nightclubs and music venues.

“This is just another example of the government making it up as they go along. What was the point in all of those details being collected if there was never an intention that they be used for the purpose of contact tracing. The government owes this sector a massive apology,” he said.

It is understood the HSE does not have the resources or staff to collect information across all sectors and have instead focused their efforts on areas deemed high risk for vulnerable people.

Nightclubs and live venues are not deemed high risk as they are mostly attended by younger people. “We only have a finite amount of resources,” a HSE source said.

Public health risk assessment teams can take action if a major outbreak is identified in any setting including nightclubs or live events.

People are required to book tickets in advance of attending a nightclub for contact tracing purposes.

Yesterday, the hospitality sector and the live events industry met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Public Expenditure and Culture Minister Catherine Martin.

Speaking after the meeting, the Taoiseach said he does not want to see concerts and events being cancelled as a result of new restrictions announced last week.

Audiences at live events and concerts are now being restricted to a maximum capacity of 50pc, with musicians such as Christy Moore and Kodaline cancelling shows as a result. The Taoiseach said that there is a need for “targeted” supports.

“We don’t want people taking a financial hit as a result for organising concerts and events,” Mr Martin said.

“We want artists still performing and I believe the nature of targeted supports to be such that we can enable concerts like this to take place, also that it would be viable for the participants and that’s where the supports should be targeted.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said supports for businesses will be decided on at today’s Cabinet meeting. Mr Varadkar said “bespoke sectoral supports” may be necessary for businesses which are not covered by the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS).

Meanwhile, the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will be restored at a top rate of €350 for some of those who lost their jobs due to the latest round of Covid-19 restrictions.

Anyone earning €400 a week or more will get the maximum amount of €350, while recipients of a normal pay packet of €350-400 will receive €300.

Those earning €200-300 per week will receive €250, those on €150-200 a payment of €203 and those on basic amounts will receive a standard €150.

Speaking on RTE Radio One’s News at One Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys said anyone who loses out on revenue because of restrictions can make a case for PUP.

“Taxi drivers who were working night shifts, for example, could have legitimately a huge drop in their income and if they can prove that they have no work, they can apply for the PUP,” she said.

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