The Chief Executive of the HSE has said that last week's announcement of the removal of most Covid-19 restrictions has given everyone, including health staff, "a great lift".

However, Paul Reid said health services across the country are still very busy.

This evening, the Department of Health has been notified of 9,938 Covid-19 cases, 5,265 of which are PCR-confirmed cases.

4,673 people have logged a positive antigen test through the HSE portal online.

There are 708 patients in hospital with the virus, down 31 on yesterday. The number of patients in intensive care is 71, down three.

Speaking at a HSE briefing, Mr Reid said health services are dealing with "a good win behind us now" in terms of being on the "right side of the slope" with the Omicron variant.

"53% of those hospitalised cases of Covid were in for an initial diagnosis of Covid, and 47% have been admitted for a different illness and subsequently diagnosed with Covid," Mr Reid said.

"That 47% are asymptomatic primarily, but infectious, so we still have to take the same process of controls and isolation in our hospital system as we work through those numbers.

"But thankfully ... the level of severity is not as severe and the length of stay is continuously coming down as well."

Mr Reid told the briefing that there were many initiatives put in place over the last two years that they do see as part of the future of the health system, such as operating much more as an integrated health system.

He also said the health system demonstrated its ability to adapt quickly and keep going.

Mr Reid said he wants to look forward now and see what is right for the health system for the future.

He said that while Ireland has both public and private health systems, the private capacity played a key role throughout the pandemic and he does see it as part of the solution to addressing some waiting lists.

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The HSE's Chief Operations Officer also said services are "exceptionally busy" and that there is a "high level of activity" across the country in many sites.

Anne O'Connor said that they are seeing some sites that are "really under quite significant pressure" in the past week.

She said that there are about 4,500 staff out on absence across the country, and that there are 720 open outbreaks in hospitals and long-term residential care.

Ms O'Connor told the briefing that there have been three new outbreaks in hospitals and ten in residential care facilities.

Meanwhile, the HSE's Vaccination Lead Damien McCallion said there has been a "substantial decrease" in GP and community referrals.

He said the positivity rate has also dropped from 55% to 48% in recent weeks, but the pace of the drop has decreased somewhat in recent weeks also.

Mr McCallion said contact tracing is still busy and the number of close contacts has increased slightly to 2.6 from 2.5.

"So overall we are continuing to see a rapid downward trend in demand and positivity week on week," he said.

Mr McCallion said 2.6 million boosters or additional doses have been administered.

In children’s services, he said they have seen 120,000 registrations and 93,000 vaccinated, adding that they are seeing a slight slowdown in this.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, six further people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died, the Department of Health has said.

Another 4,243 confirmed cases of the virus have also been notified in the last 24-hour reporting period.

On Thursday morning, there were 387 Covid-19 inpatients in hospital, 22 of whom were being treated in ICU.