Levels of Covid-19 transmission in Ireland remain “uncomfortably high”, a senior HSE official has warned.
Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the health service was set for a “difficult winter” as staff continued to deal with coronavirus while attempting to return other services to normal.
But Dr Henry said the success of the vaccine programme had put Ireland in a very “different position” from earlier in the pandemic, highlighting that high numbers of infections were not now translating into the same number of hospitalisations that were witnessed during the three big waves of infection.
He said the situation would “rumble on” over the winter.
His comments come ahead of next Friday’s planned relaxation of remaining Covid-19 rules in Ireland.
Earlier this week, Taoiseach Micheal Martin cautioned that he could not guarantee the measures would lift as planned at October 22, warning that the trajectory of the virus had taken a “wrong turn”.
Dr Henry said the decision on lifting of restrictions was no longer a “binary choice” given the effectiveness of vaccines.
He suggested vaccine certification could be a mitigation measure to enable nightclubs to reopen but he stressed those were decisions for the Government to take.
“What we’re seeing now is different, we’re seeing lots of cases of Covid and it’s crept up, going up from a 1,200 five day moving average to 1,500 to 1600 per day,” he told RTÉ Radio One.
“That’s very high.
“If we were seeing the corresponding levels of hospitalisation and serious illness (from previous waves) our hospital system would be overrun.
“We’re not, because of the vaccination programme.
“So, that vaccination programme has given us choices and options that we didn’t have.
“This is always a fine calibration, a fine calibration from how tight and how robust that vaccine floodwall is versus the need and desire to restore everything.”
He added: “At this point in time, we’re seeing uncomfortably high levels of cases.
“They’re not translating as badly as they used to do in terms of their progression to hospitalisations but nevertheless we still have people out there unvaccinated, we still have people out there who are vulnerable, we want to reach them, and we have those additional groups we now have to reach with a booster vaccine.
“And if you use that metaphor of the flood wall, there’s breaches happening all the time, we have to plug them to keep us all safe.”
A further 2,180 cases of Covid-19 were recorded in Ireland on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, there were 406 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 71 were in intensive care.