A further nine deaths of Covid-19 patients have been reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet). This brings to 2,213 the total number of deaths in the pandemic.
Nphet also reported 1,546 confirmed cases of the disease, bringing to 88,439 the total number of cases in the Republic.
This is the highest daily number of cases yet recorded in the pandemic, though the figure is likely to have been inflated by delayed reporting over the Christmas period.
Of the new cases, 444 were in Dublin, 203 in Cork, 111 in Louth, 87 in Limerick and 85 in Donegal with the remaining 616 cases spread across all other counties.
The median age is 34 years and 66 per cent are under 45 years of age.
On Tuesday afternoon, 411 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 34 were in ICU. There were 47 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan urged people to remain vigilant, given the increasing spread of the disease, but also highlighted the prospect of better times ahead with the first vaccinations administered today.
"We have reached a significant milestone in our collective response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland, with the launch of our national vaccination programme.
“To see the first recipients of the vaccine gives us hope for better times ahead, particularly for those of us who are the most vulnerable to the virus, including those over 70 and with underlying medical conditions.
“As the vaccination programme rolls out, particularly given the increasing spread of the disease and the concerning rise in the number of hospitalisations – up to 411 today – we each need to remember to remain vigilant to the ongoing risk of the spread of Covid-19 and follow the public health advice in our everyday lives.”
Chief nursing officer Rachel Kenna pointed out that many nurses and midwives will be among the first to receive the vaccine so they can continue to provide care to patients. “It is vital however to support them and all our frontline staff by continuing to adhere to the public health measures advised as the vaccine programme rolls out.”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that an “unscheduled” Cabinet meeting will take place on Wednesday because of concerns about the rapid and “exponential growth” in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days.
Last week 234 people had been hospitalised with Covid-19, that figure had risen to 409 on Tuesday which was further cause for concern, he said.
Ireland did not want to be in the same position as the UK where the NHS was overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases.
The Cabinet will be looking at the advice of Nphet, which remained that there should be a return to “full” Level 5 restrictions which would mean the closure of non-essential retail along with gyms and leisure centres.
However, the Minister said that regardless of what level of restrictions the country was at, the advice remained to limit the number of contacts. Some people diagnosed as positive in recent days had “up to 30 close contacts”. Social events were happening with too many people attending, he said.
The Cabinet’s position remained that schools should open next week as school was a safer place for children than the community.
Cases to GPs
The Covid lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners , Dr Nuala O’Connor said she was expecting a big rise in the number of Covid cases in the coming days as GPs had noticed a 65 per cent increase in referrals for Covid tests in the past week.
By the afternoon on Tuesday, Dr O’Connor said 14,000 referrals had been made by GPs across the State for patients to receive Covid-19 tests.
During the first week of December GPs made 25,000 referrals for the whole week, by the fourth week of December that had risen to 70,000, she said.
The number of people being hospitalised with coronavirus has “increased sharply” in the last two days, according to Dr Holohan.
The current seven-day average rate of positive tests had risen to 9.2 per cent, up from 5.2 per cent on December 18th.