Ireland's health service is in a much stronger position today as the Government is set to announce an easing of restrictions for the coming months, Health Service Executive CEO Paul Reid has said.

He said lower transmission levels of the virus are impacting positively on the health system along with the vaccination programme.

Mr Reid said the HSE is on target to deliver between 160,000 and 180,000 vaccines this week and this is set to rise to between 220,000 and 240,000 vaccines next week.

He said the HSE expects to request those aged 50-59 to register for a vaccine appointment soon.

But he warned that the country is still dealing with a highly transmissible virus and urged people to remember the risks it poses.

He told a media briefing that 46,230 people have attended walk-in testing centres, overall positivity rate is between 3% and 4% and the positivity rate is highest among the under 30s.

Speaking later on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Reid said there will be a stronger supply of vaccines in the coming weeks that will allow the number of mass vaccination centres to increase from 30 to 38, as efforts step up to vaccinate more people.

"We don't want stocks in a fridge, we want them in people's arms."

Mr Reid said there is growing momentum in the vaccine programme and "good reason to have confidence today and give people a spring in their step".

Mr Reid said that after earlier frustrations, the HSE is trying to pin down commitments with suppliers regarding the delivery dates of vaccines.

However, he said that indications of supply for late May and early June "are really strong".

"We don't want stocks in a fridge, we want them in people's arms," Mr Reid said, adding that the HSE will mobilise all channels to meet supplies.

He said that there have been 1.48m vaccines administered to date in total, with 28.2% of the adult population now vaccinated with one dose and over 11% with two doses.

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Mr Reid said the vaccination programme is hugely benefiting the HSE and the health system and there has been reduced illness, hospitalisations and mortality in the over 70s.

There has also been a "massive return to work" of healthcare workers who were close contacts.

He urged people to accept the vaccine offered to them.

"Take the vaccine available for you, the risks of not taking the vaccine are much higher."

The HSE is back operating at 2019 activity levels for unscheduled care and although Emergency Department attendances are back at these levels, 50% fewer trolleys are being used, said Mr Reid.

He added that the National Ambulance Service has a "very new" role providing home supports as well as supports in nursing homes and testing centres.

The briefing also heard that over 1,800 out of 3,000 people in the housebound categories have had their first vaccine.

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry said it is too early to say whether pregnant women will receive vaccines from their GPs or from hospitals and the HSE is working through advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.

Dr Henry said that partners of pregnant women can now be present during the 20-week scan, during labour and to visit a baby in neo-natal care.

Reduction in Covid-19 outbreaks

HSE Chief Operating Officer Anne O'Connor said there has been a further significant reduction in outbreaks of Covid-19 in the last week, with 58 in total.

She said that 28 outbreaks took place in hospital settings and 36 were in long-term residential care facilities.

She said there has been an "ongoing, improved situation" in residential care settings, where 1,568 long term residential care facilities being supported by the HSE but none are now in the red or amber category.

There is a very significant and marked improvement in long term positivity rates, number of outbreaks, level of support required and very low rate of staff absenteesim.

There were 155 people with Covid-19 in hospitals, with the Mater Hospital, Tallaght University Hospital and Letterkenny University Hospital caring for the majority of cases.

Ms O'Connor said the rise in cases in Letterkenny, where there are 13 cases, was linked to a higher rate of growth of cases in Donegal.

However, she said that overall cases numbers are coming down and 45 patients remain in critical care.