The Health Service Executive has said it has implemented a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team on the resumption of twice testing for all close contacts of a confirmed case.

The measure, which will see close contacts tested on day zero and day ten after their last exposure to the case, resumed today.

The recommendation was delivered to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly in a letter from Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, which was dated 4 February and published today.

NPHET recommended that for the general population, close contacts may end their period of restricted movements on receipt of a "not detected" test result from a test conducted on day ten since last exposure, so long as they remain without symptoms.

On 29 January, the HSE resumed testing of close contacts of a confirmed cases, having suspended it at the end of December, due to unsustainable pressure on the testing system because of the surge in cases.

Under the resumed testing, the test for close contacts had been performed on day five, with close contacts required to restrict their movements for 14 days, regardless of whether their test said "not detected".

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Latest figures from the HSE show that around 1,000 new first doses of Covid-19 vaccines are being administered a day.

According to the data published today, 153,654 first doses of the vaccine were given up to Sunday.

The total of first doses the previous day was 152,652.

The figures also show that 86,833 second doses have been administered, an increase of 2,489 on the previous day.

The total number of doses administered up to Sunday is 240,487.

The vast majority of vaccines administered here are Pfizer-BioNTech and of around 4,000 Moderna vaccines that arrived last month, 1,893 have been administered, with the balance held back for the second dose. 

World Health Organisation vaccine experts have said that the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine could be used for people aged over 65, and also in settings where variants of the virus are circulating.

The Department of Health has said it notes the statement from the WHO in relation to the vaccine.

In a statement the department said the information would inform National Immunisation Advisory Committee's ongoing considerations.

Call for Ireland to be better prepared for potential next wave

A consultant in infectious diseases at St James's Hospital in Dublin said significant investment is needed in Ireland's public health system to avoid another wave of Covid-19.

Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh said the arrival of new variants of the virus requires Ireland to be better prepared for a potential next wave.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, she said she has not seen evidence of measures being implemented that could prevent another lockdown, should cases of the virus rise again.

"We can't go through this again, I think everybody is suffering and I don't see the measures that are going to be required to prevent us ending up back in this situation.

"Yes, a careful reopening is sensible, but you need to use the time that you're in lockdown to put additional measures in place," she said.

Dr Ní Cheallaigh said that other variants of Covid-19 are likely to already be in Ireland, but have not yet been detected and warned that relying on a variant to be detected accidentally may mean it is too late to contain it.

"We're relying on it being picked up accidentally and we know with Covid that that just doesn't work, and unfortunately, by the time that something comes to your attention that a new variant is here, it is too late to contain it," she said.

The director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory said that while Ireland's 14-day incidence rate is coming down, it is still over 100 times higher than it was during the summer.

Dr Cillian De Gascun said "we are working with fine margins" and there is still pressure on the hospital system.

Speaking on the same programme, he said Covid-19 has not been around long enough for it to be considered seasonal and people need to remain extremely cautious.

Dr De Gascun said whole genome sequencing has been put in place since the start of the pandemic and that over 1% of viruses are sequenced, but the NVRL would like to sequence between 5% and 10%.

He said that rolling out the vaccine programme must be a priority and said he would expect that people will need an annual booster shot in order to deal with any changes to the virus.

Meanwhile, speaking at a media briefing this morning, the Assistant Secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach urged people not to make non-essential journeys.

Liz Canavan said that the number of Irish people returning from holidays abroad "is a very concerning statistic" and while people would all love and need a holiday, "now is not the time to travel".