Ireland is on track to proceed with the full lifting of Covid-19 restrictions next month, the Chief Medical Officer has told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health.

Dr Tony Holohan said this is because there are "a lot of encouraging trends" in age specific groups.

Asked "are we still on track for the ending of restrictions on 22 October?", Dr Holohan told the committee that he expects that Ireland will be in that position in a number of weeks.

While he said he does not foresee further lockdowns, he added: "We can never absolutely rule anything out."

Dr Holohan also told the committee "there is so much infection out there in the population" that it is contributing to outbreaks in nursing homes.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that since the end of June there have been 51 outbreaks in nursing homes and a further seven in community care facilities.

He told the committee that of the 896 cases, 31 people died.

Dr Glynn also revealed that there have been outbreaks in four nursing homes in the past week.

However, Dr Holohan told Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway that those "who pick up the infection" experience an impact "of a much lower level" than previously.

This is due to the vaccination programme, with uptake levels in Ireland "almost unprecedented" compared to the rest of the world, he added.

But he warned that the health service remained in a "challenging" position.

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Dr Holohan said people should not be "talking about herd immunity", but about getting 90% of the population aged over 16 vaccinated.

He told Social Democrats co-leader Róisin Shortall that Ireland is currently at 88%.

Dr Holohan also said he expects that "in a very short period of time" there will be a change in the rules for testing and self-isolation, including for children.

The National Public Health Emergency Team has been monitoring the impact of the resumption of the school year on cases.

Last week, there were 40 new outbreaks in schools, Dr Glynn said, with 191 cases.

Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said that close to 1% of primary school children are being tested daily, which is "a threefold" increase on testing levels in the summer.

The 50% increase in the detection of Covid-19 cases in that age group is linked to this rise in testing, he said.

In relation to the Delta variant, things in the Republic are going "better that they're going perhaps in the four regions of the UK", according to Dr Holohan.

This is the basis for "cautious optimism", he noted.

Dr Holohan ruled out regional lockdowns in border counties, but said he shares the concerns of the authorities in Northern Ireland about the high cases numbers there.

In the past week, there have been 535 cases per 100,000 people in Northern Ireland, almost three times the level in the Republic, which saw 190 cases per 100,000.

The case numbers in border counties more closely resemble those in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the Republic, he said.

Asked about the use of booster shots, Dr Holohan said the European Medical Association is looking at this and he expects to see some developments "in the near term".

Professor Karina Butler, Chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said vaccines are "a scare resource" and NIAC needs to be sure that a third dose "is needed, is safe and will achieve what we set out to do".

She said she hopes "that all staff in nursing homes would be vaccinated", but the "evidence has not supported a need for" a booster shot for frontline healthcare workers.