Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has expressed relief at the latest coronavirus figures which indicate that the efforts of the public have made a difference in stabilising infections.
Speaking to RTÉ on his way into the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, Mr Donnelly appealed to “the relatively small number of people” who were not yet vaccinated to do so, as it could reduce hospital admissions by half and intensive care numbers even more.
The latest figures from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) compared the current situation with the “sobering modelling forecasts” of two weeks ago, he said. “I'm delighted to be able to say that we can really see the impact of the efforts that people are making.”
The Cabinet are meeting to discuss proposed new measures designed to further curb the spread of Covid.
It comes as the emergence of the new Omicron variant prompts concern worldwide, while health officials in the State warn that coronavirus rates remain too high.
Ministers are expected to advise parents to limit the amount of socialising among children outside school.
They will also discuss whether to introduce a new testing regime for international travellers to tackle and delay the spread of the new variant.
New recommendations on mask-wearing for children are also on the agenda.
Mr Donnelly said he hoped that following the meeting there would be “very clear guidance” on mask-wearing in schools and that there would be "very clear advice" for parents.
The analysis from Nphet showed that case numbers were particularly high in 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds, he said. This was the reason for the recommendation for children to wear masks in primary schools from third class up, he added.
On his way into the meeting on Tuesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin urged people to follow public health advice.
“Vigilance is important. I want to thank the people for the degree to which they have moderated behaviour while in terms of socialisation.
“That is the message for the next number of weeks.
“All of us would continue to moderate and reduce our socialisation in a sensible way to get the overall numbers down and turn the curve of this Delta wave.”
Members of Nphet met party leaders on Monday to discuss the latest Covid situation in the State.
Mr Donnelly said on Monday that it is “likely” the new Omicron variant is now in Ireland and there are already some suspected cases.
A further 4,607 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Monday.
According to the latest figures, there are 579 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 115 are in intensive care.
On Tuesday morning, the Children’s Ombudsman, Dr Niall Muldoon, said any restrictions on children must be “appropriate and proportionate”.
“Children have never been found wanting in doing what’s asked of them in relation to this crisis,” he said. But it’s been extremely stressful for children over the last 18 months, nearly two years.”
He said it will be the second Christmas that children are being asked to avoid parties and their friends.
“That is developmentally important for children, that they meet people outside the school setting,” Dr Muldoon told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
“However, we still have to balance that with making sure we keep the schools open.”