The Department of Health today confirmed 90 further deaths related to Covid-19 and 928 new cases of the disease.

The death toll since the beginning of the pandemic now stands at 3,066 and the total number of confirmed cases stands at 189,851.

There are 1,750 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals around the country.

The number of patients in ICU with the coronavirus has reduced by three to 216.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said six additional cases of the variant first identified in South African have been confirmed here. 

"Through our enhanced public health surveillance programme, we have identified six additional cases linked to the Southern African variant of concern," Dr Holohan said.

"All cases are being followed up by public health teams in line with the latest ECDC guidance published on the 21st January."

"This highly infectious disease is having a severe impact on the most vulnerable in our society and we must continue the good work we are doing to suppress it."

Dr Holohan said the decline in the daily incidence rate of Covid-19 had begun, but he said the volume of disease in the community remained "very high".

"To date we have reported 96,000 cases in January 2021, which has already passed the total of 93,500 cases reported in 2020."

"The downturn in incidence has been achieved through the determination of people across the country to stay at home, to work from home and to avoid meeting and socialising with others," Dr Holohan said.

He urged everyone to continue to adhere to the public health advice to protect themselves and their loved ones.

The 14-day incidence rate of the virus is  721.1 per 100,000 of the population.

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New figures show a surge in the numbers of people contracting Covid-19 while in hospital.

The HSE said up to the end of last year, 967 people had caught Covid-19 in hospital. However, the HSE told RTÉ's Prime Time that the figure has increased dramatically in the past three weeks. 

Since 27 December, 846 patients have also caught Covid-19 in hospital.

The HSE said when community transmission rates are at the level they are, it is "inevitable and unavoidable that there will be outbreaks in hospitals".

Earlier, the Health Service Executive's Chief Operations Officer told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that many hospitals were experiencing a "crisis situation" despite the reduction in the number of Covid-19 cases.

Anne O'Connor said the high number of patients in ICUs, along with a high level of absenteeism, means there are huge demands on the health system.

She said around 350 nurses have been redeployed into intensive care units and there are still a high number of patients outside of ICUs who are also receiving intensive supports.

Ms O'Connor said the pandemic is gruelling for people both psychologically and physically and the HSE has a number of supports in place to help staff.

Meanwhile, the Chief Bioethics Officer with the Department of Health said decisions have to be made about how to allocate Covid-19 vaccines, because the resources are currently scarce.

Dr Siobhán O'Sullivan said increasing age is one of the clearest risk factors associated with dying or becoming very ill from Covid, so this cohort of the population will be prioritised, and most countries have similar priority groups to Ireland.

Dr O'Sullivan said it is still not known if the vaccine stops transmission of the virus.

If it does not, she said, it would make sense to vaccinate younger age groups who are more social and may be more likely to transmit it, but all factors are being kept under review.