Taoiseach Micheál Martin has called for a collective effort from political leaders across Ireland and the UK to tackle new strains of the coronavirus.
Mr Martin said “all hands on deck” are needed to deal with what he called the “dark cloud on the horizon” of the Delta variant of Covid-19, first identified in India.
Outgoing Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster said the Delta variant now makes up around 20 to 25% of new cases in Northern Ireland, raising concerns that case numbers and hospital admissions could rise in the weeks ahead.
The issue was high on the agenda of a meeting of the British Irish Council in Fermanagh on Friday.
Mr Martin said: “What was interesting in the discussions this morning, what my ears were particularly alert to was on the various communications around the Delta variant, for example.
“And some jurisdictions saying to us, we’re not quite out of the woods yet.”
“I think it’s through close collaboration that we can work, but we need to have all hands on deck, in terms of dealing with what has been a very serious issue for the people we represent.”
Mr Martin said the threats posed by the variant underpinned the need to keep the institutions of Northern Ireland up and running.
Mrs Foster said that while the pandemic situation in Northern Ireland is very positive at the moment, there are concerns that the variant will undermine that progress.
She said: “We are at yet another point where we are concerned. We’re concerned about the Delta variant.
“We heard yesterday from our chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser.
“There are concerns about that, the fact that our positive cases now are showing that 20 to 25% of our new positive cases are now of the Delta variant.
“So whilst we have good news at the moment, in terms of not having anybody in intensive care, and that our hospital admissions haven’t started to rise, we are concerned that that will be the case in a number of weeks’ time.”
Ms Foster said a balance has to be struck between reopening society and the economy, and keeping the variant at bay.
“We have to continue to open up, we have to continue to relax the restrictions, but we have to do it in a way that will protect our citizens. That’s a very big challenge” she said.
“And my advice on that is to listen to our excellent experts to take their advice, but to also obviously, try to move forward and open up the economy and society.”
There are now eight adult hospitals and three children’s hospitals which have no Covid-19 patients whatsoever, HSE boss Paul Reid revealed on Friday.
They include St James’ Hospital in Dublin, Naas General Hospital, the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore and hospitals in Sligo, Galway and Waterford.
The three children’s hospitals at Temple St, Crumlin and Tallaght are also free of Covid-19 patients.