An expert group has been set up to initially identify lessons from the public health components of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland.

It comes as a further 4,006 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health today while 5,212 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.

As of 8am today, there were 824 patients with the virus in hospital of whom 79 are in ICU.

In Northern Ireland, 5,023 new infections were confirmed today alongside five more Covid-related deaths.

The new Public Health Reform Expert Advisory Group (PIAG) has been set up by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister of State Frank Feighan.

It is also tasked with looking at how to strengthen health protection generally and future public health pandemic preparedness.

It has been asked to identify lessons from international best practice. Its final report is expected in the middle of the year.

The group will be chaired by Professor Hugh Brady, President-designate of Imperial College London, current Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bristol and former President of University College Dublin.

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The PIAG will examine the key components of the existing delivery model for public health in Ireland, with a view to recommending an appropriate operating model into the future.

Minister Donnelly said: "While Ireland continues to respond to the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, it is important to learn lessons both from the Irish and international public health response to Covid-19.

"This can ensure the development of a fast, dynamic and agile, integrated and intelligence-led public health response to future health threats."

The expert group will meet this month for the first time and produce a final report - which will be submitted to the Minister for Health - by mid-2022.

Elsewhere, an immunologist has warned that there is no guarantee that a virus will get weaker over time and there is still a risk of a variant emerging that could be more dangerous.

Professor of Biochemistry in the school of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin Luke O'Neill said it is hard to say definitively that Covid-19 has become endemic, because that means it is a predictable disease.

He said the pandemic is moving towards the end in Ireland and in Europe as a whole, but it is still burning in other parts of the world.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today's with Claire Byrne, he said it made sense for the Government to drastically ease restrictions because "it won't get much better in the next few months".

Professor O'Neill also said that there is very little evidence that a fourth dose of the vaccine is of any use unless it is given to someone whose immune system is compromised.

The third dose has a tremendous impact, he added, and said the protocol into the future will be a three-dose vaccine.

He said he thinks that children will also receive a third dose and he expects that the European Medicines Agency will approve this.