Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has urged people to avoid meeting with people from other households indoors and to avoid crowded retail environments as part of efforts to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
He has said testing centres are “very busy” but said people with Covid-19 symptoms should continue to self-isolate until they get the result of a PCR test.
His comments come as a further 10,404 new cases of Covid-19 were reported on St Stephen’s Day. On Christmas Day, the highest single-day figure for infections in the State since the pandemic began was recorded at 13,765.
There were 426 Covid-19 cases in hospital at 8am on Sunday morning with 50 new hospital admissions recorded over the previous 24 hours, the lowest number in a week.
There were 91 people in intensive care units. Covid-19 patients account for just a third of all ICU beds currently occupied by critically ill patients.
HSE data showed that the Mater hospital in Dublin had the highest number of Covid-19 patients in ICU with 13 at 8pm on Christmas Day, followed by University Hospital Limerick with 11, St James’s in Dublin with 10 and Tallaght with nine.
There were 1,293 available general beds available across the hospital system and 27 adult ICU and high dependency unit beds available.
Dr Holohan said people should continue to reduce contacts and avoid crowded places "to the greatest extent possible, as we see the Omicron variant become the dominant variant of Covid-19 in Ireland. "
“We know that this variant is more transmissible than even the highly transmissible Delta variant. As such, please do not socialise or meet indoors with people from other households.
“Avoid crowded places including retail environments,” he added encouraging online shopping where possible.
He said people should “queue outside and leave any retail environment that does not feel safe and that is not adhering to the public health guidance - implementing social distancing measures and queuing system, limiting numbers instore and staff wearing masks correctly (covering nose, mouth and chin).”
He said people who have yet to receive a booster jab should “take every measure you can to protect yourself until you are eligible to receive it.
“This includes avoiding risky environments and keeping your contacts as low as possible.”
Dr Holohan added: “All of the available evidence indicates that a booster vaccine will offer good protection against infection with the Omicron variant.”
He also said: “If anyone experiences any symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, then it is important to self-isolate and arrange a PCR test.
“Our test centres are very busy at the moment due to the high incidence of COVID-19 across the country; however, it is important that you continue to self-isolate until you receive the result of your PCR test and further information from the HSE.”
Dr Holohan said: “If you have travelled to Ireland from overseas it is important that you take an antigen test every day for five days.”
Meanwhile, during a round-table pre-Christmas interview Taoiseach Micheál Martin was asked if the current wave of Covid-19 infections would be the last big one.
He replied said: “I’m loath to use that language but, certainly, I’d be more hopeful than not that we’d be getting better [at dealing with the virus] at this. I just don’t have the data to be definitive about the surge.”
Mr Martin agreed that some people have put forward a view that Omicron might be the last surge but said: "I'm not expert enough, to be frank, to say that definitively and we know Omicron has actually re-infected people who've been infected before with Delta, which opens up the horizon of potential reinfection into the future.
“The key issue would be severity, you know, in terms of if it’s much more infectious but less impactful. That could create a new horizon - a new scenario - for the future,” he said.
Mr Martin said looking back over the last year “vaccination has really been the big game changer.”
He added: “Do we really think we’d be open today in terms of retail, construction and everything else if we had 4,500 cases or 5,000 cases and no vaccination?
“So, to me, it is the big game changer.”
He said boosters are being done now and potential new vaccines for variants are being prepared and there may be an annual vaccination programme.
Mr Martin added: “I know the HSE are looking at a sort of stronger independent capacity that they can switch on and switch off vaccination programmes around this issue.”
He said anti-viral drugs are coming on stream that will “hopefully, lead to better treatments.
“So I think we’re going to get better at dealing with it. That’s how I see us coping with Covid into the future whilst allowing our full economy back.”
Mr Martin said the economy “has come roaring back since we re-opened since March” while cautioning: “We have to be careful of that too because a lot of that energy was captured or suppressed by the Covid restrictions.”
He said: “So we are in a much better position from that perspective than we would have been without vaccinations.
“You have advances in medicines for 2022. I’m more optimistic even though the current situation doesn’t reflect that.”