The Covid-19 situation in Irish hospitals is at the "highest level of concern" since the pandemic began, the HSE chief has said.
Paul Reid said the healthcare system remained on extremely high alert with the number of people in hospital with the virus up 10% in a seven-day period.
His comments come as a record 214 people with Covid-19 were being treated in intensive care units.
In total, there were a total of 1,949 people in hospital with the virus on Thursday morning.
"The situation overall in the hospitals is at the highest level of concern that we've ever had," he said.
"All of our hospitals and healthcare systems still remain on extremely high alert.
"The number currently in hospitals is up 10% in one week. Despite a very small reduction in the last couple of days, the total number of Covid patients is now at 1,949 and this is having impact all across our health system."
He added between the January 6 and 19, 2,685 people had been hospitalised due to the virus with 163 admitted to ICU.
Of those cases, 68 were aged between 0 and 18 years of age with two admissions to ICU; 251 were in the 19-34 years age category with six admitted to ICU, 831 people (31%) were aged between 35 and 64 years with 85 ICU admissions; and 1,535 (57%) were aged 65 plus with over 70 admissions.
He stressed that the illness effects all age groups.
According to the latest figures from the HSE, last night
153 people with Covid-19 were being treated at Cork University Hospital- the highest number of people with the virus being treated at any hospital in the country.
A further 44 people with Covid-19 were being treated at the Mercy University Hospital.
Mr Reid also told the HSE weekly briefing that the vaccination programme provided a roadmap for getting out of the pandemic.
"As we are in the midst of the worst impacts of the virus it can be so hard for any of us to see a way out of this. It may seem we're stuck in a dead end in terms of the impact it is causing," the HSE chief executive said.
"I just want to say we aren't and there will be a way forward. The vaccination programme provides the roadmap for us to get out of this awful phase we're in and the public to get back to some element of our lives that we've used to."
He added: "It may take that bit longer than we would all wish and hope. That is purely based on supply. But I assure everybody, we will be operating at pace."
Mr Reid also said that by the end of February, all frontline healthcare workers will have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. He added that many healthcare workers will have also received their second dose of the vaccine by then also.
The HSE's chief operations officer Anne O'Connor told the briefing there are 480 open outbreaks across hospitals and long-term residential care.
Ms O'Connor said of those outbreaks 166 were in nursing homes, which represented almost a third of all the total nursing homes in the country.
She added that the greatest challenge for the HSE was staffing, with over 1,800 staff currently on leave for Covid-19 reasons.