A new colour-coded response is being considered by the National Public Health Emergency team as part of Ireland's Covid-19 pandemic plan.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said NHPET has spent a considerable amount of time looking at how Ireland can move to a sustainable long-term plan and the colour-coded system is different to the original roadmap, or phases, outlined by the previous government.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government will begin work next week on a "medium-term plan" to take the country through the next six or nine months of living with the virus.

NPHET me today to review the latest trends on Covid-19.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Minister Donnelly said the phases were about providing timeframes, but the codes are a warning system on where "we are at on any given day".

He said NPHET has proposed the colour-coded system, which he said "we would all recognise and be quite familiar with from weather warnings".

He said a yellow level would be "where we would be at now in most of the country".

He said orange would signify the kind of restrictions that are in place in Laois, Kildare and Offaly.

While a red status would be across the whole country and would be similar to the measures imposed at the beginning of the pandemic.

The minister said the idea behind the blue level would be that we are not fully clear of Covid-19 until we have a vaccine.

The Department of Health has said the colour-coding system is part of a framework by NPHET which envisages four phases of response in which indicators for escalation, objectives, and priority actions are outlined. 

He said he believes the measures introduced for Laois, Kildare and Offaly are very nuanced and it is possible that such measures will be introduced in other areas in the future.

Mr Donnelly also said that testing and tracing systems will enable public health teams to move as quickly and as locally as possible to try to contain outbreaks when they occur.

He said he is happy that the State will pay the Pandemic Unemployment Payment or any Covid-19 related payment because any employee that feels unwell should not be concerned about having to be off work.

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Sinn Féin's Health spokesperson said the new system has to be backed up by enforcement measures.

David Cullinane said a targeted response and more workplace inspections are needed and also called for a 'red list' on foreign travel to be published as well as testing for passengers travelling from red list countries.

Meanwhile, the President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland said that advance pandemic planning by Government needs to centre on rapid, agile testing that can be scaled up at short notice on a regional basis.

Professor Mary Horgan said testing needs to be able to move across sectors in different counties very quickly, followed by rapid contact tracing, which should lead to the containment of any outbreaks.

Speaking on the same programme, Prof Horgan said a lot will be learned from the measures imposed on Kildare, Offaly and Laois.

She said that "this has been an opportunity to test systems and there is an onus on the HSE to increase rapidity".

Prof Horgan said that Ireland needs to become "proactive rather than reactive" and get some steps ahead of the virus.

Data from the HSE website puts the median turnaround time from swab to lab result for community testing at 0.8 days, or 23 hours.

The data is provided as a seven-day average.

Figures overnight show that the number of confirmed cases in hospital and in intensive care has reduced.

This evening, the Department of Health confirmed there has been one further death and 40 additional cases of Covid-19.

There have now been a total of 1,774 coronavirus-related deaths here with 26,838 cases.

In Northern Ireland, 29 additional cases of Covid-19 were confirmed today.

There were no new deaths. There have been a total of 6,217 cases of coronavirus there and 557 people have died. 204 people have tested positive in the last seven days.

Testing to be rolled out at meat plans and DP centres

The Taoiseach has said that weekly testing for Covid-19 will be rolled out at all meat plants and direct provision centres across the country.

Some meat processing plants have become vectors for Covid-19 due to poor working conditions, according to the Deputy Secretary General of the European Federation for Food Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT).

Enrico Somaglia called for immediate responses, on national and international levels, to improve working conditions and said that exploitation in the sector is systemic.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said work permits often tie workers to the employers, which makes it difficult for them to leave.

He said many workers live in overcrowded accommodation; sometimes to save on costs and sometimes because the rent is connected to a work contract.

Mr Somaglia said many workers will not report Covid-19 symptoms because they are afraid of losing their job.

He said there are some good examples of employees being treated well, where there is a good level of social dialogue and good collective bargaining agreements.

The World Health Organization says data to date suggests 80% of Covid-19 infections are mild or asymptomatic; 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical, requiring ventilation. 

Generally, you need to be 15 minutes or more in the vicinity of an infected person and within two metres of them, to be considered at-risk, or a close contact.