Ireland has reached a "sad milestone" with more than 1,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19.
The stark figure comes a day after the Government unveiled strict new lockdown measures amid escalating hospital admissions and a record number of cases.
The head of the HSE Paul Reid tweeted: "We've reached a sad milestone that nobody wanted to happen. We've now 1,022 patients very sick in hospital with #COVID19 and 88 in ICU.
"It concerns me relaying this.
More than 100 people had been admitted to hospital with the virus and 18 additional patients needed critical care in the last 24-hour period.
Cabinet signed off on new restrictions on Wednesday as a record 7,836 new cases were confirmed, and chief medical officer Tony Holohan also warned of an incoming spike in deaths.
Schools are to close, most construction work will cease and new protocols on international travel were announced as part of the Government's new measures.
Owners of businesses such as pubs and restaurants have been warned they may be closed until the end of March.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the measures are to reinforce the "stay at home" message as the UK variant of the virus is in Ireland at a "significant level" and across all parts of the country.
Mr Donnelly warned that the variant makes it difficult to model when the virus will peak.
"The approach is stay at home and reduce contacts to as minimal as possible and in time that will lead to a reduction in hospital cases," he told RTÉ Morning Ireland.
"We have a base active of 285 critical care beds and can go up to 350 on surge capacity.
"We are putting arrangements in with private hospitals, they have about 50 critical care beds."
He said the surge capacity coupled with private hospital intensive care beds is "sufficient" for what is needed.
More than 30,000 frontline health workers will be vaccinated by the end of the week, he added.
The HSE received a delivery of the Moderna vaccine hours after it was approved on Wednesday.
Mr Donnelly said the Government expects to receive around 110,00 doses of the vaccine in the first quarter of the year.
He said that along with 360,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the Government will have 470,000 doses by the end of March.
Mr Donnelly said all nursing home residents and healthcare workers will be vaccinated by the end of next month.
The minister defended the Government's decision to allow Leaving Cert students to continue to attend school three days a week.
Mr Donnelly said the "unambiguous" advice from the chief medical officer is that schools are safe.
"What is not safe is about 1.1 million people travelling to and from school," Mr Donnelly added.
"The clear advice from the CMO is for those students going to school, it is safe. We are minimising the amount of travel."
He said it was the "absolute intention" of Minister for Education Norma Foley to continue with the Leaving Cert in its usual way.
"We are trying to avoid mass movement twice a day coming to and from schools," he added.