Another 4,006 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the State, while 5,212 more people have registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.
These figures were among the latest Covid-19 data reported by the Department of Health and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on Tuesday evening.
As of 8am on Tuesday, there were 824 Covid-19 patients hospitalised, of whom 79 are in ICU.
Meanwhile, another five people who had previously tested positive recently for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the North’s Department of Health has said.
Another 5,023 confirmed cases of the virus have also been notified in the North in its most recent 24-hour reporting period.
On Tuesday morning, there were 393 Covid-19 inpatients in the North’s hospitals, 21 of whom were being treated in ICUs.
About half of patients with Covid-19 in hospital in the State are incidental cases, according to information from doctors provided to Nphet earlier this month.
From experience on the ground, Covid-19 is not the primary reason for admission in these cases, officials were told at a meeting earlier this month.
Where patients were vaccinated prior to admission, their Covid-19 symptoms appeared to be less severe, with quicker turnaround times and less need for oxygen support.
In the UK, doctors have pointed out that the symptoms of Covid-19 are no longer specific enough to distinguish it from other respiratory viruses, according to minutes of the meeting on January 6th. There is, for example, a big reduction in the number of cases reporting loss of taste and smell.
Officials stressed trends around the hospitalisation of children with Covid-19 should be closely monitored over the coming months given many remain unvaccinated and because the Omicron variant may be capable of causing significant levels of infections among them.
While antivirals will become available to treat the virus “in the coming weeks”, supplies will be limited at first and priority groups will need to be identified.
Transmission of the virus is likely to increase over January as young people return to schools and third-level education, the meeting also heard.
There were mixed views at the meeting on a recommendation proposing the wider use of respirator masks in the community.
Some members voiced concern about the proposed change, saying the evidence did not suggest the use of these masks by the general public was useful, that it would involve considerable cost and that they can be difficult to wear correctly.
It was also argued that the proposal could lead to increased anxiety and was not merited given Omicron is milder.
The majority of members supported the proposal, arguing that Omicron has a growth advantage, that the use of respirator masks is increasingly recommended internationally and that people would have a choice anyway, as the change is voluntary.
Meanwhile, the State’s health regulator has highlighted growing evidence that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is associated with less severe disease than previous variants.
The Health Information and Quality Authority has expressed “cautious optimism” that the situation with Omicron is improving, based on a review of trends in countries that were hit earlier by the new variant.
By mid-January, cases in the UK and South Africa appeared to have passed a peak and were declining, and hospital admissions, including ICU admissions, were stable, the review found.
“Considering the international trends in hospitalisations and ICU admission rates, as well as the scientific evidence on the Omicron variant, there is cautious optimism that things appear to be moving in the right direction, despite ongoing high levels of transmission associated with Omicron,” Dr Máirín Ryan, Hiqa’s director of health technology assessment said.
“This is reflected in the international public health guidance where there has been some easing of restrictions.” Additional reporting: PA