More than 1,000 people are currently in hospital with Covid-19 in Ireland, as the country heads towards the expected peak of a surge driven by the Omicron variant.
There are 1,063 patients hospitalised as of Monday morning, an increase of 79 since Sunday, in the highest figure recorded since February of last year.
89 people are in intensive care with the virus, up six from the day before.
Chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, said that despite indications that Omicron causes less severe illness, “there is no one in hospital with a mild illness”.
“One good positive thing – we’re not seeing the same level of patients needing advanced respiratory supports,” he told Newstalk radio.
It was good news that the proportion of people entering hospital was “significantly down on what it would be in previous waves,” Mr Reid said.
However, he warned that hospital numbers may not yet have peaked.
“It’s a milestone we were hoping we didn’t see happening, but it has happened,” he said of the 1,000-plus admissions.
“The health system overall is under significant stress across the board, and that goes from our primary care services, our community services, GPs in particular, and all the way through to our hospitals.
“This is normally a very busy period anyway, post-Christmas and early January, but layer on top of that Covid, and layer on top of that the staffing impacts that we’re having from staff being out with Covid.”
It comes as another 21,384 positive cases of Covid-19 were notified on Sunday. Saturday saw a new record daily case number set, with 26,122 new cases confirmed.
Amid reports that mandatory Covid vaccination is to be considered by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), Mr Reid said it was his personal view that a voluntary vaccination system was better than a mandatory one.
The take-up of the vaccine in Ireland had been fantastic, he said. “It is always better off working with people’s hearts and minds,” he added.
Mr Reid said the issue of mandatory vaccination was a policy matter for the Government to decide, which they would do on the basis of advice from Nphet.
Meanwhile, a professor of immunovirology at University College Cork called for a national discussion on mandatory vaccination.
The idea needs to be fleshed out. It is worth having the discussion
“The idea needs to be fleshed out. It is worth having the discussion,” Prof Liam Fanning told Newstalk Breakfast.
He pointed out that there was already mandatory vaccination for other diseases “in some form” in healthcare settings, so it was “not correct” to say that it was not already in place.
“Some professions have to have the Hepatitis vaccine,” he said, adding that visitors to certain countries also needed vaccines against tropical diseases, which indicated that mandatory vaccination was acceptable in certain circumstances.
Prof Fanning said he could see mandatory vaccination being put in place for patient-facing or public-engagement professions.
The Taoiseach has said in the past that he did not want to see mandatory vaccination for Covid, which Prof Fanning said indicated that there did not appear to be “an appetite” for such a measure.
Prof Fanning also called for booster certs to be required for social activity and hospitality. This would protect staff and customers as the booster shortened the window during which they were likely to be infectious, he said.
-Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke.