The level of Covid-19 in the community is "vastly under-reported" due to antigen testing, a consultant in infectious diseases has said.

Professor Cliona Ní Cheallaigh said "we're lucky the current variant is much milder, most people are vaccinated, so not getting severely unwell, but there is a lot of virus around."

She said if people do not want to get Covid-19 they should wear a mask because "it's Covid soup out there".

Speaking on RTÉ's Brendan O'Connor programme, she said Covid-19 cases are still high and are "vastly under-reported," given that "a lot of people are testing using antigen testing, because of the change in policy".

Prof Ní Cheallaigh said wearing face masks slows the transmission of the virus, but added that from what she can see most people are no longer wearing them.

The mandatory requirement around face masks was dropped last month, although they are still advised on public transport and in healthcare settings.

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Prof Ní Cheallaigh said long Covid remains an issue for many people who are "very disabled" with it and there is still a limited understanding of it.

Meanwhile, the number of people with Covid-19 in hospital has risen further.

As of 8am, there were 1,569 people with the virus in hospitals around the country, an increase of 111 on the same time yesterday.

It compares to 1,185 last Sunday and 957 two weeks ago, a rise of almost 64%.

Today's figure also represents the highest level in 14 months - since 28 January last year - when it stood at 1,620.

The number of people with the coronavirus in intensive care units remains relatively stable.

As of 11.30am, there were 52 patients with Covid-19 in ICU, an increase of one on yesterday.

It compares to 49 last Sunday and 41 two weeks ago.

The Health Service Executive no longer issues Covid figures over the weekend.

On Friday, the Department of Health was notified of 9,324 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19, as well as 10,542 positive antigen tests logged through the HSE portal.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has reported 1,172 further cases of Covid-19 and two deaths in the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghda said the union is "very concerned" about what she described as "a general view that the pandemic no longer exists".

Speaking on RTÉ's This Week, she said healthcare staff face "an extraordinary battle on a daily basis" tackling Covid-19 and appealed to people to continue wearing face masks.

"Now, this is a small measure. It's . . about congregated settings, and it's about public transport - wearing masks on public transport.

"Wearing masks when you enter a shop, wearing masks, particularly when you enter a hospital. All of the working workers in those settings, in hospitals and healthcare facilities, will continue to wear masks," she said.

Progress in talks over pandemic bonus

Ms Ní Sheagdha said "progress is being made, but there still is quite a bit to go" regarding talks with the Government on the pandemic bonus.

She said that the union's demand that nurses in private acute hospitals and practice nurses be included in the payment "remains outstanding".

Initially, it was proposed that workers employed in the health service between March 2020 and June 2021 would receive the payment, but the INMO is now seeking to have the eligibility date extended to take stock of the current Covid wave.

"We're saying that if you were recruited to the health service since last June, you worked in the same circumstances as those who worked prior to that and by the HSE's own figures, we know that half of the outbreaks in hospitals for the entire pandemic have happened since that date.

"So Covid is a very real feature of everyday work in Irish hospitals and in Irish healthcare settings. Unfortunately, the majority of outbreaks are now happening in all of the healthcare settings."