Taoiseach Micheál Martin has told a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting that Covid restrictions will last into February, as 61 more Covid-related deaths and 2,488 further cases were reported today.

Mr Martin told the meeting that the numbers are too high and there is some way to go, ahead of a Cabinet meeting planned to discuss the measures next week.

He said the Government will take the advice of National Public Health Emergency Team.

Mr Martin's comments come as the number of people with the virus in ICU is 210, up eight since yesterday.

The total number of Covid patients in hospital, at 2pm today, was 1,923, with 85 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.

In a statement this evening, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan reiterated his message to people to stay at home as much as possible and to work from home where possible.

"You should not meet up with friends or loved ones, unless you are caring for them," he said.

"If you go out for exercise, you need to stay within 5km from your home, wear a face covering where appropriate and wash your hands when you return home to protect yourself from infection."

Dr Holohan said people who are Covid positive need to "self-isolate and stay at home, in your room, avoiding contact with other people".

He added that the numbers of deaths and cases announced today and "the persisting high incidence rate of Covid-19 across the country shows that we cannot underestimate the highly infectious nature of this disease and the impact that it can have on families and communities".

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Of the cases reported today, 1,383 are women and 1,090 are men; 51% are under 45 years of age and the median age is 44 years old.

A total of 726 cases are in Dublin, 314 in Cork, 148 in Galway, 133 in Limerick, 130 in Meath and the remaining 1,037 cases are spread across all other counties.

The department said that one Covid death has been denotified, so the total number of Covid deaths is now 2,768. To date, the total number of cases is 179,324.

Earlier, Mr Martin said the Government has "broadly" followed advice from NPHET and the 6,000 cases a day, which occurred recently, was "not predicted by anyone".

The Taoiseach said the rise in cases was caused by seasonality, the new variant and added that "undoubtedly socialisation is a factor".

He said there were "many super-spreader events that are nothing to do with hospitality".

Mr Martin was responding to Paul Murphy of Solidarity-People Before Profit who accused the Taoiseach of a "failure to follow public health advice" which was responsible for "hundreds of tragic deaths".

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Mr Murphy added with cases clearly out of control, the Chief Medical Officer had called for measures set out in Level 5, but it was not until 31 December that retail was finally closed. 

Mr Murphy called for a zero-Covid strategy and a travel ban to Ireland.

He called on the Taoiseach to ensure a recommendation in relation to working from home is implemented, saying when he contacted the Health and Safety Authority he was told it was at the discretion of employers.

In response, Mr Martin said NPHET advice and advice from the CMO has been against the zero-Covid approach.

He added the situation in Northern Ireland was "problematic" and said there was no prospect of sealing the border.  


Latest coronavirus figures 


Independent review into Coombe Hospital vaccine roll out

The Board of the Coombe University Hospital has said an independent review is to be carried out into the administration of Covid-19 vaccines at the hospital on 8 January.

The Master of the hospital, Professor Michael O'Connell, issued an apology after 16 family members of the employees at the hospital were vaccinated with left over doses.

The board said that it expects the review to be completed within a number of weeks.

In a statement, it said that a decision has also been taken to appoint a senior clinician from within the hospital to "take full responsibility for the next stage of its vaccination roll out until it is completed".

Concern over availability of ICU beds for Covid-19 patients

The president of the Intensive Care Society said she does not know whether there will be enough ICU beds in the weeks ahead to treat the anticipated level of people needing critical care, but they will do their "level best" to increase capacity.

Dr Catherine Motherway, who is also an ICU consultant at University Hospital Limerick, said if the public do what is required of them in terms of controlling the surge, there will be enough beds.

She said people now know they cannot socialise in a discretionary way while the population is not immune, and so cannot go back to situations like those seen at Christmas until everyone is vaccinated.

"We all have to continue to social distance for quite some time, months not weeks, we need to stop talking weeks we need to start talking about months. And was we roll out our vaccination programme then hopefully we can return back to something that we used to consider normal in this country," she said.

Dr Motherway said they were seeing a continued presentation of patients with "severe" Covid-19 infection. 

In a statement this afternoon, the National Rehabilitation Hospital confirmed that two of its patients have been identified with Covid-19 in the past week. One case is in the Spinal Injury Programme and the other in the Brain Injury Programme.

It is the first occurrence of patient cases of Covid-19 in the NRH since the start of the pandemic, the hospital said, adding that it has put robust processes in place to ensure these cases are contained and potential for transmission is minimised.

New figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre for the week to 16 January show the number of Covid-19 outbreaks increased last week.

Overall outbreaks increased to 293 compared to 220 the previous week. The main increases were seen in residential institutions and hospitals.

The number of outbreaks in workplaces also rose to 41 compared with 25 the previous week. Private house outbreaks reduced for the second week in a row.

Additional reporting Fergal Bowers