A further 2,605 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the State.
There are 487 people in hospital with the virus, 99 of which are in intensive care, the Department of Health has said.
Meanwhile, close contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19 will be sent out free antigen tests from today, as long as they are fully vaccinated and do not have any symptoms.
Close contacts who do have symptoms or are not fully vaccinated will be referred for a regular PCR test.
People who fall into the category for antigen testing will be posted out a box of five antigen tests and will be asked to do three tests - the first test on the day they receive the kit, the second test two days later and the third test two days after that.
If an antigen test come back as positive, people are asked to book a PCR test, while those whose antigen tests are negative are asked to report their negative results via the HSE website.
Antigen tests can be done at home and results are available within 15 minutes of a swab being taken, while PCR swabs are taken at testing centres and must be sent to a lab for analysis, meaning it can take days for a result to be returned.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said today was a very important day for rapid testing, and that leaflets would be delivered nationwide informing people who were close contacts about what they should do if they had symptoms.
Mr Donnelly acknowledged that progress on antigen testing had been slower than he would have liked, but that it was now being rolled out as part of a wider deployment.
He also said he was examining the cost of antigen tests as it was important for them to be affordable.
Speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show, Mr Donnelly said Ireland’s Covid figures were now the “fourth worst” since the beginning of the pandemic.
A further 1,631 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the State on Wednesday, while Mr Donnelly said there are now 500 people in hospital with Covid.
This represented a 20 per cent increase in one week and a 40 per cent increase in two weeks.
Of the 100 people in intensive care, 60 per cent were unvaccinated.
The Minister also said he had asked the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan for his view on the possibility of a second or booster vaccine for people who had received the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Booster doses for people over the age of 60 will commence next week at vaccination centres while the 70 to 79 age group will get it through their GPs.
Ireland had one of the most successful vaccination programmes worldwide, he said, and this was because the expert advice had been followed, adding booster vaccines would be given cohort by cohort as advised.
Meanwhile, the HSE's chief executive Paul Reid said that while the number of people hospitalised with the virus has declined a little in recent days he expects the total will rise sharply in the weeks ahead.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday, Mr Reid said he expected the number hospitalised would rise to “well over” 2,000 during this wave, which he said would impact on services for some people seeking treatment.
The impact of Covid-19 on hospitals was more than just beds being occupied, he said, adding that some wards would need to be closed as a consequence.
Mr Reid said some hospitals had to reduce or cancel elective care, but there was good support from private hospitals with the HSE taking up 1,100 beds per week in those facilities. This number could increase further during the winter, he said.
He said there had been an uptick in the numbers registering to be vaccinated in recent days, from 800 to 2,500 per day, and the HSE would continue numerous initiatives to increase this.
Meanwhile, the HSE has commenced a new Covid-19 communications campaign that is asking people not to attend work or any other events if they have Covid-19 symptoms
Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, said the aim of the "thank you" campaign is "direct and very simple – we must all react quickly when we have Covid-19 symptoms".
“Going to work with any cold and flu-like symptoms, waiting and seeing how you feel, attending a social event with a cough, or even when you just had a Covid test – these things now have to become unacceptable,” he said.