The Department of Health has confirmed 4,620 new cases of Covid-19.

The number of people in hospital with coronavirus is 571, down 27 since yesterday. Of these, 118 are in intensive care, a decrease of eight.

There were 2,004 new infections and nine deaths reported in Northern Ireland.

According to the Chief Medical Officer, Ireland's Covid-19 situation remains "vulnerable" to a further deterioration.

Dr Tony Holohan said that factors - including levels of social contact "over the festive period" - will determine the number of cases over the next few weeks and months.

It comes as the World Health Organization classified a new Covid-19 mutation as a "variant of concern". Originating in southern Africa, it has been renamed Omicron.

Earlier, the European Union proposed that member states stop all flights to and from southern Africa following the discovery of the new variant that scientists fear could beat vaccinations.

The Government is advising against any unnecessary travel from Ireland to seven southern African countries following the detection of the new variant.

Ireland and 26 other EU member states have agreed to apply an emergency break on all travel to the European Union from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The United States, Canada and other nations have also introduced travel restrictions on these countries.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the Government was acting in a precautionary manner to address the chance of the variant getting into the country.

He said new legislation would have to be enacted to provide for the re-introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine which is being considered.

Minister Donnelly also said that people returning from any of the seven countries will be required to take a pre-flight PCR test and to quarantine at home on arrival.

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Meanwhile, Belgium has detected Europe's first confirmed case of the new variant of Covid-19.

It is also one of several European countries to have announced measures aimed at curbing a rapidly spreading fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

The Netherlands has announced that it will be "effectively closed" in the evenings with bars, restaurants and shops shutting early to curb a spike in Covid cases there.

Here, the National Public Health Emergency Team has recommended the wearing of masks for primary school children from third class upwards until the middle of February.

lt is also advising that children aged nine and over wear masks on public transport, in shops and in other public settings where the rule currently applies for those aged 13 and over.

Meanwhile, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee has issued new advice, recommending booster vaccines for everyone aged 16 and over.

It follows the opening of walk-in booster Covid-19 vaccination clinics for healthcare workers and people aged 60 to 69 nationwide by the Health Service Executive.