A further eight deaths relating to Covid-19 have been reported according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) taking to 4,713 the number of people across the State who have died with the virus so far.
According to the latest figures, 591 new cases of the disease have been reported, bringing the total number of Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began to 237,187.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said that four of the deaths occurred in March with the remainder taking place in February. The median age of those who died was 74 while the age range was between 51 and 94.
Of the cases notified on Friday, 292 relate to men and 295 to women. The median age was 31 years old with 72 per cent of the new cases occurring amongst those under the age of 45.
There were 288 new cases recorded in Dublin, 40 in Kildare, 30 in Meath, 28 in Westmeath, 27 in Laois, with the remaining 178 cases spread across 19 other counties.
As of 8am on Friday morning, 264 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, of which 62 were in ICU. There were 18 new hospitalisations over the preceding 24 hours.
The fresh data also highlights the numbers vaccinated. By the end of March 30th, 840,561 doses of a Covid 19 vaccine had been administered, with 603,802 people having received a first dose and 236,759 people receiving their second dose.
Speaking on Friday evening, Taoiseach Micheál Martin reiterated his belief that the end of the Covid-19 crisis is in sight and offered what he said was “genuine hope” as he outlined a “steady and safe” path out of the current lockdown.
In a message delivered on Twitter on Friday evening, Mr Martin acknowledged that this Easter bank holiday weekend would be different, and he accepted that people “will not be celebrating it in the usual way”.
He added that he recognised “how tiring the sacrifices during this pandemic have been but I can assure you that your efforts have really worked and thanks to your actions and the vaccine rollout the levels of serious illness and mortality caused by the new variant have fallen significantly”.
He said the “pathway ahead is clear” and he pointed to a ramping up of vaccine supplies and promised that the rollout would accelerate over the months of April, May and June.
“By the end of next week I expect a million doses of Covid vaccines will have been administered and by the end of May, three million doses,” the Taoiseach said.
Earlier on Friday,the public were urged to stick with the Covid-19 restrictions over Easter with “much brighter days ahead” because of vaccination.
The call came from the deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn and the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland Dr Michael McBride.
They issued a joint statement in the run-up to the Easter bank holiday weekend warning that Covid-19 remains a “ very dangerous, very transmissible virus, circulating in our communities that continues to spread and cause serious illness and, sadly, death”.
“Most people are making a huge sacrifice and missing time with loved ones in order for us to stay on course with the public health guidance.
“We must ask that, once again, we work together to prevent a further wave of infection by celebrating this Easter safely. Please continue to stick with the public heath advice. Do not give this virus the opportunities it is seeking to spread.”
The numbers of patients in hospitals with Covid-19 fell from 274 to 264 while the number in ICU was down by two from 63 to 61.
It is the lowest number in hospital since Christmas Day and down 91 per cent from the peak in January.
HSE chief executive Paul Reid said it was "continued progress", but he warned that the hospitalisations were too "high a base" to relax restrictions.
The University of Limerick Hospitals Group has confirmed that spare vaccines were administered to gardaí.
About 100 gardaí based in Clare and Limerick have been given their first Covid-19 vaccines this week, even though members of the force are not prioritised for the jabs.
These vaccines were administered at the start of this week, before the Government’s announcement that gardaí and others would not be prioritised on the basis of occupation.
The vaccinations were administered at the Limerick vaccination centre, which is run by the UL Hospitals Group.
It insists the vaccines were offered to gardaí in line with national guidance.
In response a spokesman for An Garda Síochána said vaccinations are a matter for the HSE.
Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, has said that rapid antigen testing will add an extra layer of protection in the fight against Covid-19.
While there were valid concerns about the false sense of security such testing sometimes generated, if rapid tests were carried out two to three times a week it could be very effective as it would pick up the presence of the virus during the peak of infection, he explained.
Rapid antigen testing could be used in schools, universities, workplaces and at sporting and cultural events, he told RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland programme.
The system was already being used in meat plants in Ireland and in other countries. "It is not being used as widely as it could be in Ireland," Prof Kingston suggested.
People could have a negative rapid test result, but still be incubating the virus which was why they should be tested two to three times a week, he said.
Mandatory hotel quarantine
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly met Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Thursday to discuss a recommendation that 43 countries and states be added to the list of "high-risk" areas that necessitate a quarantine period on arrival in Ireland to prevent the possible spread of Covid-19 variants.
Sources said there was significant pushback from Mr Coveney, who raised concerns over capacity in the hotel system for an influx of passengers as well as legal concerns over adding other EU countries to the list. The meeting was described by one source as "frosty".
Mr Coveney said the State should not move ahead with including countries with a large number of Irish citizens living in them.
While it was agreed that 26 non-EU countries and states would be added to the high-risk schedule, sources said Mr Donnelly still supported adding countries of concern regardless of their location and would push for this in the coming days.
People arriving from the 26 countries – which include Israel, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria and Serbia – will have to book a space in the hotel quarantine system if they intend to arrive after 4am on April 6th.
Prof Mills said that a period of isolation for new arrivals was a good thing and that under the previous system people were not doing that and it had been difficult to enforce.
The biggest threat to the country is the South African and Brazilian variants so it is important to keep them out.
Putting France and Germany on the list of countries for whom arrivals would have to go to mandatory hotel quarantine is "sensible" he said given the significant levels of the South African variant in those countries.