There has been a sharp decline in referrals for Covid-19 testing among people aged 15-24, the HSE has said.

Speaking this afternoon, HSE National Lead for Testing and Tracing Niamh O'Beirne said the positivity rate among tests carried out in this age group has also declined, dropping from 22% to 16%.

The positivity rate among children aged 0-14 has also fallen.

"That age group were our highest number of referrals, and they have lowered quite significantly in the number of them coming forward for testing. Their positivity has also gone from 22% to 16%," Ms O’Beirne said.

"This is driving cases to fall overall and community positivity levels to fall also".

She added that the positivity rate from tests carried out in the community has dropped from 14.5% to 12%, while the overall positivity rate stands at 9%.

The Executive is carrying out an average of 15,000 Covid-19 tests every day.

Ms O’Beirne said that 16,000 tests were completed on Monday, which was "the highest to date during this wave".

As schools return, Ms O’Beirne also said that 700 schools have come forward to report a positive Covid-19 case in their setting since reopening this week.

She said the HSE is currently referring children for testing and assessing their close contacts.

"What it means is that a child contracted Covid-19 in the community and went to school when they were positive," Ms O'Beirne said.

She added that the positive cases do not mean that there is transmission of the virus within schools.

Over time, she said, as children complete the initial test and then repeat it on day ten "that will give an indication in terms of transmission in school settings."

Ms O'Beirne said the number of schools reporting positive cases was expected because the daily case numbers are much higher than in May, the last time both primary and secondary schools were fully open.

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Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has said the country can take some heart from indications that Covid-19 levels may be on a downward trajectory.

Speaking this afternoon, Micheál Martin said it was extremely important that people remain vigilant, and that numbers are continuously monitored amid schools reopening.

The Taoiseach also said figures so far indicate the reopening of the economy is having a beneficial impact on economic development.

The signals indicate Ireland is currently enjoying an economic bounce as key parts of society reopen, he added.

This afternoon, there were 1,703 new cases of Covid-19 reported by the Department of Health.

There are 363 people with Covid-19 being treated in hospitals around the country.

Of these, 52 are being treated in intensive care units, down two from yesterday.