HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid has called on the public to continue to follow the public health guidance on preventing the spread of Covid-19, even if restrictions are eased tomorrow as expected.

"Keep the basics at the front of minds while we cherish the opportunity we may get to meet with our friends and families over Christmas," he said at the HSE's weekly Covid-19 briefing in Dublin.

Mr Reid said: "No matter what the Government decides tomorrow, protect yourselves and your families over the coming weeks by reducing contacts to a minimum, avoiding congregated indoor settings to the greatest extent possible, wear masks, wash hands and keep social distance.

The HSE chief said as the country reopens the executive will continue to be concerned about a potential "lag effect" between the time of a rise in cases and the associated rise in hospital admissions.

He said this concern will be greater given that a rise in cases may take place in January, which is the busiest time for health services.

Mr Reid said it was an obvious concern as the country moves from a place where the vast majority of the public have been very conscious to reduce their contacts and wear masks that through December those protections would "go down".

At the same briefing, HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said there had been a drop in Ireland's 14-day incidence rate to 108 per 100,000 of population.

Dr Henry said Ireland now has the third lowest 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 of population of 31 EU countries measured along the same methodology, behind Iceland and Finland.

He said that while the positivity rate of tests had approached 8% in October, it was now approaching 3%. He said the reproductive number, or R rate, was between 0.7 and 0.9.

Dr Henry said healthcare workers account for 17% of all Covid-19 cases to date.

He said that it appears at this stage, that for a second time, a situation where healthcare systems become overwhelmed has been avoided.

Dr Henry said unfortunately some healthcare systems across Europe had been overwhelmed. But he said that the outbreaks are a reminder of how virulent the virus is.

In the week ending 21 November, Dr Henry said there were 772 outbreaks, of which 652 were in private houses, 15 in hospitals and five in nursing homes.

Latest coronavirus stories

On testing and tracing, Mr Reid said more than 80,000 swabs had been taken over the past seven days with 77,600 tests completed and 11,500 contact tracing calls.

He said they were heading into a process that they call "source investigation", where they look back initially on about seven days of data.

He said as the virus reduces in the community it gives them an opportunity to focus on source investigation.

Mr Reid said they will try to identify where people were, such as specific locations to try to find super spreader locations where people may have been and then identify further contacts who may have been in those locations.

He said that this is something that public health teams do already, but the plan would be to do it on a wider scale involving contact tracing teams, adding that they are starting a pilot with the intention to roll it out further in December.

He said their primary function should remain on the speed of contact tracing which they have been very focused on.

Mr Reid said 269 people are currently being treated for Covid-19 in Irish hospitals, with 36 in ICU.

He said the HSE is "going into the winter this year in a stronger position than last year" due to a decrease "of about 14/15%" in the number of emergency department presentations.

Mr Reid said there is a 70% reduction in the number of people who are waiting on trolleys this year compared to last year.

Between 10 and 23 November, 339 people were admitted to hospital for Covid-19.

Of these, 4.1% are aged 0-18, with none in ICU, 24% are aged 19-24, with none in ICU, 26% are aged 35-44, with five in ICU, 212 people aged 65+, with six in ICU.

Mr Reid said there six "significant" outbreaks in hospitals, which "continue to be a concern".

The hospitals affected are Tallaght University Hospital in Dublin, Naas General Hospital in Kildare, St Columcilles Hospital in Dublin, Letterkenny University Hospital in Donegal, University Hospital Limerick and St Luke's General Hospital in Kilkenny, with a total of 535 people affected.