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Hospital mask thieves will face justice - Garda

Gloves and sanitisers for health workers also go missing as outbreak leads to surge in demand

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A nurse at a drive-up testing faciility in the US. Picture: AP

A nurse at a drive-up testing faciility in the US. Picture: AP

AP

A nurse at a drive-up testing faciility in the US. Picture: AP

The senior officer leading the Garda response to the coronavirus crisis has warned that the force will take very seriously the theft of protective equipment that is vital to keeping front-line health workers safe.

Deputy Garda Commissioner John Twomey confirmed that the force has been in contact with a number of hospitals about the disappearance of protective equipment, including gloves, masks and sanitisers, as the outbreak causes demand for supplies to skyrocket.

A number of hospitals are understood to have reported to gardai that protective equipment has gone missing.

Mr Twomey said anyone who removes material without authorisation will be investigated.

"It is a crime and we will treat it as such. We will investigate it and perpetrators will be brought to justice," he said. "There is no need to do it. People need to be conscious that this equipment in a hospital is for the vulnerable people."

The contact with hospitals is one of a wide range of responses to the coronavirus pandemic by An Garda Siochana. More than 300 recruits were fast-tracked through their training last week to boost officer numbers during the emergency.

Mr Twomey said the force is adopting a twin-track approach which involves continuing crime investigations and enforcing new emergency legislation aimed at keeping people safe.

"We have introduced a 12-hour roster for most of our staff to make sure we have maximum availability of resources to meet demand," he said.

"We have a twin-track approach. We will continue to police the streets, we will continue to arrest people and bring people to justice. We will continue to enforce the law."

Gardai will also be serving the elderly and vulnerable in communities across the country. "We are there, we want to help in whatever way we can to address those concerns," Mr Twomey said.

"We are conscious again of the demands that are growing on us on the crime side of it, but the elderly and vulnerable we are saying to them, if they need anything to contact An Garda Siochana. We are supporting them through this crisis."

The force hired up to 210 additional 'contingency' vehicles last week for the use of gardai around the country, to help them engage with communities, and to assist in collecting medical prescriptions, attending hospital appointments and other supports that they may need.

"We are working flat out to support the Health Service Executive in dealing with the crisis," Mr Twomey added. "We will endure, we will get out the other side of it."

The Garda's response to the crisis is being managed through the Covid-19 co-ordination unit from Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park, which is operational round the clock.

"All of the resources from Garda headquarters have been reassigned to support that particular unit," Mr Twomey said.

The coronavirus crisis, which has resulted in widespread closures of government agencies and restrictions on the court service, has had ramifications across the criminal justice system.

Mr Twomey said the system ensures that gardai have line of sight of the different issues arising around the country, ranging from bail, immigration and childcare issues to protection supplies for frontline officers.

Gardai could also be called upon to enforce measures in the emergency legislation passed by the Dail last Thursday. The Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill will allow officers to force businesses to close and they can also break up public gatherings and parties.

Mr Twomey added: "Our advice and our ask is that everybody heeds the public health guidance. The next steps and phase of this will be dictated by the success of the current guidelines.

He said gardai will deal with the next phase in whatever form it takes and that won't be known until the impact of current containment measures becomes apparent.

Mr Twomey also warned that online fraud has increased internationally and the force is expecting to see an increase in the number of Irish people being targeted by scammers.

Sunday Independent