The Tánaiste has told a Fine Gael party meeting that evidence is stacking up that the country will need an extensive vaccine booster programme this winter.

Leo Varadkar said further advice will come from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee on this.

Earlier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Ireland is "on track" for eliminating most Covid-19 restrictions by 22 October, but added that people will still have to wear masks in retail, public transport and healthcare settings beyond that deadline.

Speaking in Slovenia this evening, the Taoiseach said that Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan is "happy" that the infection rate in schools has dipped back to levels during the summer.

Mr Martin said that over the coming weeks medical authorities will look at expanding the number of cohorts who can participate in the vaccine booster campaign.

He said a decision should be taken on the question before Christmas.

It comes as the Department of Health was notified of 984 new cases of Covid-19. There are 343 people in hospital with the disease, down six on yesterday.

Of those patients in hospital, 70 are being treated in intensive care, up five.

There were 31 newly notified Covid-19 related deaths since last Wednesday, bringing the total number to 5,280 since the pandemic began.

In relation to outbreaks of the virus, the Health Service Executive recorded ten outbreaks in schools last week.

They are among a total of 203 new clusters identified over the course of the week.

Nine of the school cases were in primary schools, with the tenth case connected to school bus transport.

A total of 43 cases of the virus were linked to these school outbreaks.

There were seven new nursing home outbreaks reported with 19 confirmed linked cases, two clusters identified in community hospital/long-term care facilities, and six new acute hospital outbreaks reported with 29 confirmed linked cases.

There were 14 new outbreaks in residential institutions, with 56 confirmed linked case, eight in centres for people with disabilities.

There were 19 outbreaks reported among social groupings classified as vulnerable.

They include 13 outbreaks involving Travellers with 70 confirmed cases, and two outbreaks associated with homeless people, with 16 confirmed linked cases.

There were 22 workplace outbreaks reported with 91 cases, including six in the construction sector.

There were six outbreaks related to retail outlets with 24 confirmed linked cases. There were two college related outbreaks involving nine cases.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health said that two further patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 have died in the last 24 hours.

Another 1,339 cases of the virus were also notified today.

As of this morning, there were 362 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 31 were in intensive care.

A total of 2,539,912 vaccines have been administered in total.

The Department of Health also said today that unvaccinated people aged 50 and over are almost four times as likely to die after contracting Covid-19.

New figures from the department also show three-quarters of adult inpatients aged under 50 in Northern Ireland are unvaccinated.

The Vaccination Status of Deaths and Hospitalisations Report gives details about patients who were treated in hospital for Covid or died from the virus between 30 August and 26 September.

It also found 22% of inpatients aged 50 and over are unvaccinated and that unvaccinated individuals aged 50 and over are five times as likely to be admitted to hospital as fully vaccinated individuals.

For adults under the age of 50, whilst the numbers admitted to hospital are lower, an unvaccinated individual is almost 18 times as likely to need hospitalisation.

Health Minister Robin Swann also confirmed that school pupils aged 12-15 are to be offered a single Covid vaccine dose in the coming weeks, in line with the joint recommendation of the UK's four chief medical officers.

Meanwhile, a skin condition known as 'Covid toes' may be a side effect of the immune system's response to fighting off the virus, a new study has found.

The symptom results in chilblain-like inflammation and redness on the hands and feet , with the condition sometimes lasting for months at a time.

Additional reporting Paul Cunningham, Emma O Kelly