Another 5,523 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the State, while 5,048 more people have registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.
These latest figures were reported by the Department of Health and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Thursday evening.
Nphet was due to meet on Thursday to discuss the easing of restrictions, as the Taoiseach said some measures could begin to lift next week.
Signals from Government figures and officials have been upbeat in recent days over the current wave of the virus and the potential for a sooner-than-expected unwinding of some restrictions.
Micheál Martin said the current restrictions had been due to stay in place until the end of the month but this could change.
It is expected that Nphet will approve the removal of the 8pm closing time for the events and hospitality sector, which has been in place since before Christmas. Ministers will meet on Friday to assess the Nphet advice before the Taoiseach announces the decisions.
Mr Martin said he will give a "clear and comprehensive statement" on Friday about the plans for the weeks and months ahead. "The situation is positive. We have come through Omicron better than we might have expected prior to Christmas," Mr Martin told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
“The combination of the booster campaign and vaccination and the fact that Omicron does not seem to be as virulent as Delta and previous waves has meant that the impact on people, in terms of severe illness and death and ICUs, has been much less. So, therefore, I think people can be positive, we can be positive.”
Ireland is entering a new phase, he said, and changes are expected to happen next week. “The original restrictions were there till the end of the month, we may now go before that,” he added. “I do want to allow Nphet to meet today but yes, I think we can look forward to an earlier lifting of restrictions than we might have anticipated.”
He said measures including the wearing of masks will continue for some time.
The Government on Wednesday announced a raft of measures designed to thank the public and frontline workers for their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the measures announced is a one-off public holiday on March 18th, as well as a tax-free payment of €1,000to frontline healthcare workers. Mr Martin said the details of the scheme are still being worked on and the date of the payment has yet to be confirmed.
He said those in line to receive the bonus have “more or less” been decided, but that a panel will be established to assess the plans. “There is a panel to be established because it’s a complex enough area, in terms of categories of workers and so forth,” Mr Martin added.
There were 896 patients in hospitals with Covid-19 as of 8am on Thursday, and 90 in intensive care, according to the latest Health Service Executive figures. This represents a drop of 15 patients in hospitals compared with the same time the day before.
Professor of immunology Christine Loscher said there had been a clear decline in Covid-19 case numbers, as well as "positive indications" from health service staff about Omicron's impact.
“I think that’s enough reason to be able to row back on restrictions now, and take advantage of the fact that we’re in a good position,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
“We thought maybe a few weeks ago we could have up to 50,000 cases a day, we’re now at about 12,000 cases a day,” she said.
The surge in cases had not been followed by a similar “translation into hospitalisations”, which meant there was no justification to delay easing restrictions, she said.
A further two people who previously tested positive recently for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have died, the North’s Department of Health said on Thursday.
Another 3,879 confirmed cases of the virus were also recorded in the North in its latest 24-hour reporting period. On Thursday morning, there were 402 Covid-positive patients in the North’s hospitals, with 24 of them in intensive care. – Additional reporting PA