The wearing of masks in crowded places could still be required in autumn and early winter, the Minister for Health has said.

Stephen Donnelly was speaking during a Seanad debate to extend emergency public health powers until 9 November.

The powers allow for Covid-19 restrictions to be quickly reimposed at any stage.

He said that while the country is ahead of the best case scenario presented a few months ago, the virus is at a precarious stage.

Mr Donnelly said it would be sometime yet before a sufficient number of people are fully vaccinated.

But he said unimpeded international travel for those who are vaccinated is on the cards and Government will, he hoped, allow this to happen within the EU green certificate system as quickly as possible.

However, the extension of the emergency powers all the way to November was questioned by some in the Government parties.

Green Party Senator Vincent P Martin said the draconian measures dampened hope and should be looked at again.

Independent Senator Michael McDowell said the lack of time given to debate the emergency legislation was a scandal.

He called for politicians and their staff to be vaccinated quickly so that they could return to political business as normal. He said this move would require some political courage.

Otherwise, he warned, that TDs and Senators would have to continue to merely rubber stamp emergency legislation of this nature.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has been notified of 345 new coronavirus cases.

There are 127 people in hospital with the virus, 44 of whom are in intensive care.

Amid the disruption caused by the cyber attack on the HSE's system, the number of cases may change due to future data validation.

Earlier, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin expressed hope that test entertainment events could be hosted in June.

Proposals are currently being drawn up with details to be announced on Friday.

Ms Martin said that she would like to see doors open for such venues "for good" as soon as possible.

The minister also said that regulations around outdoor dining will be published early this week.

Among the guidelines will be a requirement to have people spaced at least one metre apart. The €9 substantial meal rule will be dropped along with time limits.

Elsewhere, the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad have written to TDs and Senators over what they feel is "some deterioration" in politicians' compliance with public health measures.

Sean Ó Fearghaíl and Mark Daly described their email as a gentle reminder to keep safety front and centre.

"As we approach what we hope is the final hurdle, we must all ensure that Leinster House and the [Convention Centre] remain safe places to work," they wrote.

They asked politicians to maintain social distancing, to wash their hands and to wear a mask unless eating, drinking or speaking in debates.

300,000 Covid vaccinations administered last week

The HSE has said that 300,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses were administered last week and that it expects to administer a similar number of doses this week.

An announcement is awaited on when vaccination registration for people aged 40-44 will open.

Meanwhile, registration for a vaccine is open for people aged 45 to 69.

Due to the HSE cyber attack, people who have symptoms or who are a close contact of a confirmed case can attend any walk-in Covid-19 test centre without an appointment.

People are asked to bring photo ID and a mobile phone number.

However, there may be a delay in getting a Covid-19 test result.

The HSE has said that emergency departments are open for all medical emergencies but they are busy because of the IT outage and patients can expect significant delays.

Most appointments are going ahead but many x-ray appointments are cancelled. Most community health services are operating as normal, and cervical screening appointments have resumed.


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Additional reporting: Fergal Bowers, Tommy Meskill