Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has defended the failure of the Government to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing, saying the original Covid-19 powers were Draconian and only appropriate for the emergency phase of the pandemic.
He added the State has now moved towards a "living with Covid" approach.
However, the Minister encouraged the public to continue to wear masks on public transport, in crowded settings and in health care settings.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s News at One, Mr Donnelly said the new BA2 variant accounted for 95 per cent of cases and more measure than face masks would be needed to combat such a highly contagious variant.
“Everything helps” he said, adding that while the country was no longer in the emergency phase, he encouraged the public to show solidarity with vulnerable people and to wear masks.
The advice from the chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan echoed this decision, he said.
When asked if he was prepared to publish that advice, Mr Donnelly said he was, as he felt that the more advice there was “out there” the better.
Asked if he was hopeful that the peak of the BA2 surge had passed, the Minister expressed “cautious optimism” as the five-day rolling average of cases was falling.
In other countries, once the peak had passed there had been a rapid decline in cases, he added.
Mr Donnelly said the public could further help reduce the spread of the virus if the 700,000 who have not received their booster dose were to come forward to receive their jab.
The latest figures showed half of the patients currently hospitalised with Covid had not received their booster vaccine. On Friday morning, there were 1,472 people in hospital with the virus, 59 of whom were in ICU.
When the number of cases starts to fall then the number of hospitalisations will fall, the Minister said.