Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has expressed concern over the rise in cases of Covid-19 and urged people over 65 and those who are immunosuppressed, to avail of their second booster.

Speaking as he arrived for this morning's Cabinet meeting, the minister said there had been a threefold increase in hospital cases in recent weeks.

He said that of those in hospital aged over 65, "quite a bit less" have availed of the second Covid-19 booster vaccine.

The minster also said that seven in every ten Covid patients in hospital are aged over 65.

Mr Donnelly appealed to people to adhere to public health advice, which still recommends the use of face coverings on public transport and healthcare settings.

He said that there was currently no advice to reintroduce mandatory face coverings and that Ireland was in a "living with Covid phase", however he added that the situation could change.

Minister Donnelly said that it was important to protect hospital services, which could be affected by Covid outbreaks.

He said it was not clear if Ireland was approaching the peak of this current wave of cases or how high it would go.

The minister said that Government was monitoring the situation in other countries experiencing a Covid-19 wave, such as Portugal.

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As of 8am, there were 626 people in hospital with Covid-19, an increase of 20 on the same time yesterday.

Of these, 23 people are in intensive care units with the virus.

'Return to the basic precautions'

A Co Clare-based GP has said that the people who need to be most worried about the current Covid wave are those who have not had their boosters and vaccines.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Dr Yvonne Williams said those are the people who are "most sick" with the virus in hospital.

She also warned that people who are immunocompromised "need to be very careful".

"If you are not vaccinated or you are not boosted or you have a weak immune system, you can obviously still end up quite sick and in hospital or even in ICU," Dr Williams said.

She said while the new sub-variant is much more transmissible, "it is not necessarily causing more aggressive disease or a nastier illness than what we have had before".

Dr Williams said she believes "we should be wearing masks in crowded indoor places" because people have become complacent.

She also said that many shops have "stopped providing hand gel" and it is important to return to the basic precautions that people have been taking over the last two years.

Speaking on the same programme, a Professor of Immunology at Maynooth University said it is very difficult to avoid being exposed to the new Omicron sub-variant.

Professor Paul Moynagh also said "it is very difficult to quantitate, especially with these new Omicron sub-variants," the level of protection the population would have with mandatory mask wearing.

"Back in around Christmas time, January time, when the first sub-variant of Omicron arrived, it sort-of burned through the population at a time when masks were mandated. So it's very difficult to protect from getting infected from this Omicron variant," he said.

He said that in many cases the virus transmits in households and mask wearing in these settings is not practical.

He said Covid-19 vaccines are working "really, really effectively, especially in terms of protecting against serious illness, hospitalisation and death".

Prof Moynagh warned that healthcare systems need to be prepared for the winter and that "even with boosting, I don't think we are going to completely block the transmission of this virus".