A record number of daily Covid-19 cases were reported in the State on Friday, with an estimated 83 per cent of cases being due to the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
A total of 11,182 cases were reported by the Department of Health on Christmas Eve, as the HSE reports that the testing system has been "under pressure" over the past two days.
Despite the high case counts, there are still positive trends in hospitals.
There were 393 patients in hospital with the virus on Friday morning, of which 89 were in intensive care.
That is the lowest number of Covid patients in ICU since November 10th. Hospitalisation figures tend to lag behind case numbers so a rise is expected in the coming weeks. Prof Philip Nolan, chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s modelling group, has warned that the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital could rise to between 650 and 2,000 next month due to the Omicron wave.
The Department of Health also said it would be changing how it reports cases in anticipation of large volumes of case numbers over the coming period.
The daily case numbers announced will now be based on positive SARS-CoV-2 results uploaded to the HSE Covid Care Tracker the preceding day. It said this data was provisional and did not represent notified cases.
Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said Ireland has the second highest booster vaccine uptake among adults in the EU.
Since Monday, more than 386,000 people have received a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccines in a combination of walk-in vaccination centres, appointments based systems in vaccination centres and from their local GP and pharmacies.
A total of 1.84 million additional Covid-19 vaccines have been administered since the booster programme began. On Thursday, 83,872 vaccines were administered.
More than 8,200 people have also presented for their first vaccine dose or second vaccine dose this week.
In a statement on Friday, Mr Donnelly thanked those involved with the vaccination booster programme, particularly given the expansion of the programme announced this week.
“I’d like to thank everyone working in our health and social care services. That includes everyone working in our hospitals and in the community, as well as those working in GP and dental practices, pharmacies, nursing homes, our ambulance service, the Department of Health and other public bodies and teams.”
Prof Brian MacCraith, head of the State’s vaccination taskforce, also commended those involved with the programme.
He said 10 per cent of the eligible population was boosted this week alone.
The campaign for children aged five years to 11 years had already commenced in paediatric hospitals, he said, where an estimated 50,000 children with underlying conditions had received their first dose already.
It was difficult to estimate the rate at which the remaining 430,000 5-11-year-olds would be vaccinated as it would have to be done "at an appropriate rate" for children who could not be rushed, he told RTÉ Radio's News at One.
Prof MacCraith added that a fourth dose of the vaccine may become necessary and valuable lessons had been learned from the initial vaccine campaign and the booster campaign.
Expansion of booster programme
Damien McCallion, the HSE lead for the vaccination programme, said the booster campaign should hit the two million mark in the coming days.
Overall, the system was “working well”, he said. It will be closed for Christmas Day and December 26th, before reopening on the 27th.
From December 29th, the vaccination campaign will expand to include people aged 30-39 years through vaccination centres and pharmacies. Some GPs were already vaccinating this group, he told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.
Those who received the one-shot Janssen dose will also be offered the booster vaccine from December 29th, this will initially be through GPs and pharmacies and eventually through vaccination centres.
Mr McCallion added that from January 10th all other adults aged 16-29 years will be able to avail of the booster vaccine and children aged five years to 11 years will be able to get their first dose.
Children with underlying health conditions will be offered their vaccination from January 3rd, along with children where there are vulnerable people in their household. The portal for appointments will open on December 28th.
On the recent increase in cases, Mr McCallion said the State’s PCR testing system has come “under pressure in the past 48 hours”.
People seeking a test would be able to avail of one on Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day, but there will be a “slightly reduced service”, he said.
“I know it’s difficult for people waiting for results but the advice remains the same, if you have symptoms you should isolate.”