Covid-19 is “everywhere”, and the public should assume that if they go into any crowded space, some other people will be infected with the virus, acting chief medical officer Dr Breda Smyth said yesterday.
Dr Smyth, who is interim CMO following the retirement of Dr Tony Holohan last week, repeated calls for people in eligible groups to avail of their first or second Covid-19 booster shot.
She also called for the use of face masks in some settings as Ireland battles the latest wave of the virus.
Dr Smyth said most Covid-19 hospital admissions are in people aged over 65, and warned that the virus is here for the medium to long term.
She was speaking as the number of patients with Covid-19 stood at 849 yesterday, a drop since Monday, with around 125 Covid-positive patients being admitted to hospital each day.
The number of patients in intensive care due to complications of the virus is stable
The uptake of a second booster shot among the over-65s and immunocompromised groups has been slow, although it has recently improved by around 10pc amid the surge in cases.
Dr Smyth said vaccines continue to provide strong protection from severe disease.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, who along with Dr Smyth launched the annual report of the HSE’s Women and Infants Health Programme, said that of 27 patients with Covid-19 in intensive care last week, around nine were there directly due to the virus.
However, Dr Smyth said official figures for positive cases in the community after PCR or home antigen tests do not reflect the true level of infection, which is significantly higher.
Anyone with symptoms should self-isolate until 48 hours after the symptoms have gone and for seven days if they test positive.
Both the minister and Dr Smyth ruled out reintroducing restrictions to combat the current wave.
“Covid is here for the medium to long term and we have to learn to adapt to it,” Dr Smyth said.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee is still examining how an autumn roll-out of booster vaccinations will work and who will be eligible.
Mr Donnelly said he was worried about how a rise in hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 in the autumn and winter would impact the national waiting list drive, which aims to reduce the backlog of public patients needing care.
Meanwhile, several foreign holiday destinations popular with Irish holidaymakers have been hit in the latest Covid wave.
Italy reported 132,274 Covid-19 cases yesterday, according to official health ministry figures, passing 100,000 for the first time since February 8.
The country, which has the eighth-highest Covid death tally, reported 94 more deaths yesterday.
Portugal has become the latest country to drop all Covid travel restrictions, so tourists no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test.
The new rules come in to effect immediately. However, face masks remain mandatory on public transport and in taxis.
The Visit Portugal website said the rules could be reviewed “in accordance to the evolution of the pandemic”.