There have been 1,154 new cases of Covid-19 reported by the Department of Health.

The Department has also said there are 297 people in hospital with Covid-19, an increase of 19 since yesterday. 63 of these patients are being treated in intensive care units.

In Northern Ireland, five further deaths have been reported, along with 1,020 additional positive cases.

Meanwhile the Health Information and Quality Authority has said that rapid antigen tests may have a role in limiting transmission of Covid-19 in people with no symptoms, in certain circumstances.

In a review published today, it said that antigen tests should only be used as an additional public health measure, rather than a replacement for known mitigation measures.

The review was conducted at the request of the National Public Health Emergency Team.

HIQA said there is uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of rapid antigen tests for screening of asymptomatic individuals, with the aim of limiting transmission of Covid-19.

It also said there are significant resource, implementation, regulatory, ethical and social considerations linked with the widespread use of rapid antigen tests for this group.

HIQA's Chief Scientist Dr Conor Teljeur said: "A negative antigen test in an asymptomatic person should not be viewed as a 'green light’ to engage in activities that would be otherwise considered as high risk for transmission.

"Also, the introduction of routine and widespread rapid antigen testing in asymptomatic populations would require a significant investment.

"Any decision to use RADTs for screening in asymptomatic populations should consider a variety of factors including the prevalence of Covid-19, the proportion of the population who have adequate immunity and the vulnerability of the population involved."

In a separate report, HIQA has also advised that the minimum age of mask wearing should not be reduced.

It means no change to the current guidance that children over the age of 13 and those in secondary school, should wear masks.

HIQA said it had reviewed the best available evidence, including the latest international practice.

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The HIQA review found that rapid antigen tests reliably detect those most likely to be infectious.

However, it said that it only reflects the viral load at the time of sampling, so the timing of the test is important.

The authority said that in the case of self-testing with a rapid antigen test, there is a need for training for lay people, to improve the quality of the sample collection and interpretation of test results.

It said that while the cost of professionally administered antigen tests is much lower than PCR tests, successful deployment at scale would still involve significant cost.

Those in rural areas among hardest hit by pandemic

Separately, people living in rural areas in Ireland and those living in public housing have been among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with residents in such areas experiencing higher rates of hospitalisations, according to a new study.

The study by University College Cork and Technological University Dublin, published in Nature Scientific Reports, examined the age, gender, regional socio-economic status and urban/rural classification of symptomatic Covid-19 patients in Ireland through to hospitalisation, intensive care and death.

Patients living in categorically rural areas and in regions characterised by higher rates of local authority housing were also at increased risk of hospitalisation.

The research examined how both men and women in Ireland were impacted by Covid-19, with men approximately 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalised, admitted to ICU, or die, than women.

Close to 50,000 cases of Covid-19 in Ireland's first two waves of the pandemic were analysed, with the study creating the first socio-economic picture of who, and where in Ireland, were the most impacted during the pandemic.