The Department of Health has confirmed 18 further deaths from Covid-19 - the majority of which occurred in November - and 269 more cases.

Of the 18 deaths reported today, one death occurred in October, 15 deaths occurred in November and two are under investigation.

The Department of Health said that in the case of the deaths under investigation, the date of death is to be confirmed. 

It said this is being investigated as part of standard ongoing Health Protection Surveillance Centre data validation of Covid-19 cases and Covid-19 related deaths.

There has now been a total of 2,069 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland. Today's data has seen the denotification of two deaths.

A further 269 more cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, bringing the total number of cases to 72,798.

Of the cases notified today, 133 are men and 133 are women, 65% are under 45 years of age and the median age is 35 years old.

The breakdown of today's cases is: 73 in Dublin, 20 in Kilkenny, 20 in Limerick, 19 in Louth, 19 in Tipperary and the remaining 118 cases are spread across 20 other counties.

As of 2pm today, 224 patients are in hospital, and the number of people in ICU is unchanged at 31. There has been 14 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said: "Each one of us has a role in shaping the national picture on Covid-19 in the coming weeks.

"It is vital that you keep hand washing, wear face coverings and keep a two-metre distance from each other, to protect public health, to protect vital public services and to give us the best chance to continue to minimise the spread of the disease."

A grim coronavirus milestone has been reached in Northern Ireland with the number of official deaths passing 1,000.

Meanwhile, non-essential retail shops, hair and beauty providers, gyms and leisure centres are among the businesses that reopened to the public across the country today following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

Cinemas, museums and galleries are also allowed to reopen, but pubs serving food and restaurants will remain closed until Friday.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Public transport providers have appealed to the public not to use public transport unless it is necessary and to avoid it at peak times in the morning and evening if possible.

Capacity has been increased to 50% to cope with the additional demand.

General Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union Dermot O'Leary said his members are concerned about the increased capacity on public transport, and is seeking clarity as to whether this includes both standing and seated passengers.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said it is not the job of bus drivers to police capacity, but said he is concerned that they will do their best to carry people, and "by doing that they're not only putting themselves under pressure, but putting the commuters under pressure".

Mr O'Leary said if passengers are told there are only 32 or 33 seats and the rest have to stand "people may not be inclined to stand if they see vacant seats, there's the potential for the middle doors to be blocked".

Taoiseach rejects suggestions that Govt took 'serious gamble'

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has rejected suggestions from Solidarity/PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett that the Government took a "serious gamble" by reopening the hospitality sector.

Mr Boyd Barrett said the move risked family gatherings at Christmas time.

Mr Martin said the Government did not reject the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team, adding: "we did not open wet pubs because of tracking what happened in August and September." 

"We took a more conservative approach on the household visits.

"There is only so much a Government can do in a democratic society", he said.

"We took a balanced measured approach". 

Meanwhile, Infectious Diseases Consultant at St James Hospital Dr Cliona Ní Cheallaigh said there is no downside to improving ventilation and it has a big effect in reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, she said she opens windows on buses and in offices. 

Dr Ní Cheallaigh said it would appear that shops are managing the numbers well and people are adhering to public health advice.

She said people who want to mix with vulnerable people over the Christmas period should make every effort to minimise their social contacts now.