A further 21,384 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded by the Department of Health as the Omicron surge puts the health service "under stress" with close to 15,000 staff absent due to the virus.
As of 8am on Sunday, 984 people were in hospital with the virus, up 67 in the last 24 hours. There are 83 patients with the virus being treated in intensive care (ICU).
That is the highest number in hospital since the surge last January. However, head of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Paul Reid said there was "room for optimism" as booster vaccines were giving greater protection and ICU numbers continue to remain relatively stable.
Mr Reid said the “most immediate impact” the latest surge of cases is having is on staff numbers.
Nearly 15,000 staff are out due to Covid, he said, out of a total complement of about 120,000. “The number of staff we have out with Covid is really hurting hard,” he added.
Mr Reid said on Twitter there was evidence of less severity associated with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 but “nobody is hospitalised for mild illness”.
In Northern Ireland, two more patients who previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died. Another 3,760 positive cases of the virus were also confirmed by the North’s Department of Health on Sunday.
Mr Reid said the HSE is developing a new integrated system to allow members of the public to register positive antigen tests.
“The system will be ready throughout the course of next week,” he added.
Vaccines for children
Mr Reid said more than 82,000 children aged five to 11 had registered for the Covid-19 vaccine as of Saturday evening.
Speaking to Newstalk’s On the Record, Mr Reid said it was a busy weekend as the rollout of the vaccine to this age cohort began.
Some 20,000 vaccines were administered to these children to date, Mr Reid said, adding that 9,800 of those were high-risk children.
Mr Reid said “what was very special” was the feedback from parents, guardians and children who were excited to receive the jab.
“It was a nice occasion overall, I think well-managed, and great care was provided by our professional vaccinators on the day. Ultimately we’re really pleased to have started this right now,” he said.
Mr Reid said the process of administering vaccines to this age group takes “twice as long” as the vaccination process for adults in order to give children “good care”.
He said the level of registrations is “in line” with what they saw with the 12 to 15-year-old age cohort, when there was a “slow and steady uptake” as parents took time to read the information available on the vaccines.
Almost 2.4 million boosters or third doses have also been administered in the State to date.
There was “phenomenal” uptake of boosters in the four days running up to Christmas, Mr Reid said, as people opted to increase their level of protection in advance of meeting with family over the festive period.
“I would be urging the public that it’s really important that you come forward for the vaccine. Don’t leave it any longer. It does give you a much higher level of protection, particularly with Omicron,” he added.
On Saturday evening, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said new guidance on close contacts from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) would give the State "options" to consider.
The health authority said some Covid-19 public health measures could be relaxed to help health systems cope with extreme pressure due to staffing issues amid high infection rates.
On Friday, it issued updated guidelines to European Union members on isolation and quarantine measures in light of the “rapid spread” of the more transmissible Omicron variant across the bloc.
Several arms of the State’s health apparatus had already warned that disruption caused by measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 is intensifying in the health service.
The new guidance includes new options regarding quarantine and isolation, and recommendations that can be adapted and implemented when resources are limited and when there is high pressure on healthcare systems and other functions in society.
The ECDC’s overall guidance regarding quarantine remains unchanged, but the options proposed include shorter quarantine periods for close contacts of Covid-19 cases in case of high and extreme pressure on healthcare systems and society.
In the options for isolation of Covid-19 cases, the clinical improvement now required includes a resolution of fever for 24 hours instead of for three days. The options also include testing by rapid antigen tests to release patients from isolation.
Shorter periods of isolation are also proposed in the options, which are for essential workers, in case of high and extreme pressure to healthcare and society.
The options also include removing the need for vaccinated close contacts of people infected with Covid-19 to quarantine if the health system is under extreme pressure.