The number of Covid-19 outbreaks in private homes and childcare facilities jumped last week as public health officials warned yesterday the daily toll of new cases does not reflect the true level of infection.
New figures show there were 69 outbreaks in private homes last week and another 28 in childcare centres, a rise of 14 in the previous seven days.
Although new daily cases of the virus are falling, people who are close contacts are still not being tested unless they develop symptoms.
People should not "get distracted by the gradual decrease in Covid-19 cases", a statement from the Department of Public Health Mid-West, University of Limerick Hospitals Group and HSE Mid-West Community Healthcare warned.
Dr Mai Mannix, director of Public Health Mid-West, said: "The current trend of decreasing infection levels is a welcome one, and helps our team manage complex clusters and outbreaks when they do arise.
"However, previous experience has shown that where is there is a noticeable drop in cases, there can be a shift in behaviours whereby some members of the public relax their efforts, which then leads to more cases and outbreaks."
The HSE said it needs to see levels of positive cases dropping consistently before reintroducing automatic testing of close contacts.
It comes as another 54 deaths and 1,335 newly diagnosed cases were reported yesterday.
The people who died ranged from 55 to 96 years of age.
The number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital fell to 1,670 from 1,750 the previous day. However, the number of patients in intensive care rose to 217, one higher than on Tuesday.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said: "The current 14-day incidence remains more than double the peak incidence experienced during previous Level 5 measures in October.
"Therefore, now is not the time to drop your guard and start to interact with people outside your household.
"The risk of transmission in the community remains very high.
"We must continue to work towards reducing incidence of disease and preventing further hospitalisations and deaths."
One in 76 people tested positive for the virus this month.
There were 20 new outbreaks of the virus in hospitals last week, 27 in long-term care facilities and 31 in residential institutions.
Another 36 were reported in workplaces, including 11 in food production and 10 in the commercial sector.
Offices suffered six outbreaks and two were in construction sites.
Meanwhile, a report from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) at Trinity College, following a survey of almost 4,000 people aged over 60, found their lives have been severely affected by the pandemic.
Almost one-third delayed or did not get the medical care they needed.
Their prevalence of Covid-19 was 5pc, but this was three times higher among the 60- to 69-year-olds compared with the over-70s.
Six in 10 have not travelled to meet their family and 80pc are not visiting friends.
More than one in five suffer from depression, double the rate before the pandemic.
Around 22pc are not getting enough physical activity.