The Department of Health has been notified of 3,428 new cases of Covid-19 as the Irish Medical Organisation warned that healthcare services are being hit by a "perfect storm".

There are 478 patients with the virus in hospital, which is 34 more than yesterday. The number in ICU has risen by one to 75.

The President of the IMO expressed serious concern at the continuing high rate of Covid-19 infection across the country.

Dr Ina Kelly, who is a specialist in public health, warned: "The next couple of weeks will be critical not just for the outlook on Covid but for the wider health service.

"Our GP surgeries, hospitals and ICU units are all under extraordinary pressure. We are being hit by a perfect storm of high Covid numbers, the annual winter flu season and shockingly high numbers on waiting lists."

Dr Kelly said the public could help medical professionals by increasing their own vigilance and maintain a strong sense of personal responsibility.

"People have done incredibly well over the past 18 months but the weeks leading to Christmas will be critical. For those who have yet to be vaccinated, please get the vaccine as a matter of urgency.

"For those who have been vaccinated, don't treat the vaccine as a permission-slip to return to the old ways. Continue to exercise caution. Wear masks. Wash hands and keep your distance."

Dr Kelly said the IMO was particularly concerned at the knock-on impact of any increase in hospitalisation. "Our waiting lists are already in an appalling state. We can’t afford to lose hospital staff and hospital beds to Covid 19."

In Northern Ireland, another 1,035 positive cases of the virus were confirmed today along with four further deaths.

'Just roll it out as fast as possible'

Meanwhile, a professor of immunovirology at University College Cork has said vaccine boosters have a role to play in slowing down transmission of Covid-19, and should be rolled out to everyone as fast as possible.

Prof Liam Fanning said the roll-out of booster vaccinations should have begun six weeks ago and be authorised for use by now in the over 40s.

Speaking on RTÉ's Brendan O'Connor proogramme, Prof Fanning said "just roll it out as fast as possible".

Prof Fanning said data shows it is turning out to be a three-shot vaccine and he "cannot understand" the time taken by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee to authorise its use among healthcare workers and the over 60s.

He said the efficacy of booster vaccines have been proven in Israel, where a study indicated an 11-fold decrease in Covid-19 infections among over 60s after boosters were given.

Latest coronavirus stories

The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture has said he would like to see booster vaccines rolled out to more age groups.

Speaking on RTÉ's The Week in Politics, Martin Heydon said the vaccination programme is not the only mitigation measure, and that there is also testing and tracing, mask wearing, and working from home where possible.

"It is the series of different approaches that will allow us to keep the country open throughout the winter," Mr Heydon said.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that up to 1.4 million booster vaccines are set to be rolled out to those aged over 60 in the coming weeks.

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week, he said that the Government will continue to be led by the advice of NIAC who will look at the use of the vaccine in those aged under 60.

Mr Donnelly said that Ireland will be lead by the European Medicines Agency on any decision to vaccinate those aged 5-11.

He said that NIAC is working with the EMA on this.