The Department of Health has been notified of no new deaths, with 821 new confirmed Covid-19 cases.

The last time no daily deaths were reported was 21 December.

The number of people who have died with Covid-19 here is 3,948 and the total number of confirmed cases is 210,402.

The number of Covid patients being treated in ICU is 157, down three on yesterday.

As of 8am today, there were 916 people with coronavirus in hospital.

The Chair of NPHET's Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group said most of the indicators of the disease are continuing to decrease, with the seven-day moving average down to 862 from 1,200 two weeks ago.

Professor Philip Nolan said the numbers of people in hospital are below 1,000, with 40 admissions a day, and the number of people in ICU this morning was just down below 160 and was on average 170 over the last 7 days.

However, he said the rapid decline in case numbers appears to have slowed and is not decreasing as much as they would like.

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Prof Nolan said an important component of that is the testing of asymptomatic close contacts.

The number of symptomatic cases continues to fall rapidly, he said, but the number of asymptomatic cases is quite stable.

He Nolan said the demand for tests has continued to fall, as the level of asymptomatic disease in the population falls.

He said NPHET is concerned that although the positivity rate is still decreasing, it is decreasing slowly.

At just under 6%, he said, it is still quite high, adding that they want to see further progress there.

The number of new deaths being reported each day appears to be declining, he added.

He said good news was the very high incidence among older people was approaching the population average and that this age group would soon be protected through vaccination.

However he said the incidence in younger people may be starting to rise, though not a very significant increase, in those under 13.

Prof Nolan said they are seeing a small increase in cases of those aged 19-24, not a trend, but something to be watched closely and NPHET is also seeing an increase in Dublin and cities in general.

'A good news day'

Prof Nolan said this was a good news day in terms of the further acceleration of the vaccination programme.

He said he is happy to report that the country is making continuing progress in terms of the suppression of the virus, but the rate of that progress may be slowing down and there is still "a considerable distance in terms of getting case numbers down to a safer level".

There is work to be done with the basic public health measures of hygiene, distancing and masking over the coming weeks, he said, to keep ourselves safe between now and the time vaccination offers much wider protection in society.

In relation to family gatherings on St Patrick's Day, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said that at this point he does not see a scenario where anything "other than the cautious, phased reopening of schools will be possible in March".

He said: "We've got to get that right, we've got to get our health services back up and running and it's difficult to see beyond that at this point."

It was too early to talk about Easter at this point, he added.

Dr Glynn said right now it is not safe to meet people outside your household.

He said they have seen what happened in Galway, where younger people from different households met up with each other and "we simply can't have that at a population level right now if we're to continue to suppress the disease".

Dr Glynn said the country needs to get schools back open, while continuing to suppress the virus.

Asked about the reopening of schools, Dr Glynn said while the opening of schools must be a priority, it must be done on phased and cautious basis.

However, he said while the incidence of the virus is going in the right direction there needs to be a continued decrease over the coming weeks.

He said the concerns remain about the new variants as well as the increase in travel that would come about if the schools reopen.

Dr Glynn also said it was too early to say when pubs and restaurants will be allowed to reopen.

He said "the virus loves alcohol" and it contributes to greater risk. He also said NPHET was worried about super spreader events. 

He said "we're very far from making recommendations" for such places to open again.

NPHET also said that there were 181 total outbreaks in workplaces with 29 cluster in meat factories.

Dr Glynn said there was a concern over outbreaks in the third-level sector with a rise in infections Galway and Limerick.

He said people needed to know that people who have been infected in the past can become infected again.

However, he said brighter days are coming and said the vaccination of the over-85s was a significant milestone.

The National Clinical Director of Health Protection with the HSE, Dr Lorraine Doherty, said a total of 116 GP practices would participate in the roll-out of vaccines to the over 85 group, with an estimated 374 GPs taking part.

Dr Doherty told the NPHET briefing that the HSE will run a very detailed vaccination campaign as they begin to use the mass vaccination centres over the coming weeks.

She said there will be quite a number of places, other than mass vaccination centres, where people will be able to access vaccines, such as with their GP.

She said said the prioritisation list is determined by aiming to protect those most at-risk of serious illness and hospitalisation first.

In Northern Ireland, an additional four deaths of people with Covid-19 were reported today. It brings the death toll from the disease in Northern Ireland to 2,000.

It means the total number of deaths has doubled since December.

A further 234 cases of Covid-19 were also announced. There are 477 Covid-19 patients in hospitals in Northern Ireland, including 59 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the Government has said it is to open 37 centres across Ireland to be used when the Covid-19 vaccination programme is scaled up.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that once vaccine supplies increase, it will be possible to administer 250,000 vaccinations a week.

Today, the vaccination roll-out started to move to the general population.

More than 80,000 people over 85 are due to receive the coronavirus vaccine this week.