Ireland logged 14,096 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, as the World Health Organisation warned that a global surge in newly recorded cases could be just the "tip of the iceberg" as countries reduce testing.
5,452 cases were confirmed by PCR testing in Ireland while 8,644 people registered a positive antigen test result through the HSE's portal.
The positivity rate of PCR testing has soared to 38 per cent, while antigen tests are now identifying the bulk of new cases amid a major scaling-back of the country's test and trace system.
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital has reached its highest level in over 13 months, surpassing the peak seen in January this year, with 1,081 people being treated for the virus on Wednesday, including 44 patients in intensive care units.
Ahead of the St Patrick’s Day bank holiday period, the Department of Health appealed for people to follow health advice to “socialise safely and maintain our focus on protecting those most vulnerable to the severe effects of Covid-19, as well as ourselves.”
“There has been an increase in the number of people with a diagnosis of Covid-19 who are receiving care in hospital. This is placing an additional burden on the delivery of services across hospitals and Emergency Departments,” it said in a statement this evening.
Please do not attend any social events, work, school or college if you have symptoms.
“Anyone who has symptoms of Covid-19 should self-isolate until 48 hours after symptoms have substantially or fully resolved – please do not attend any social events, work, school or college if you have symptoms.
“Mask wearing is advised in crowded indoor settings, on public transport and in healthcare settings. Anyone who wishes to wear a mask should not be discouraged from doing so.
“Continue to practise good hand and respiratory hygiene by washing and sanitising hands regularly and coughing/sneezing into your elbow. Maintain a physical distance where possible.
“Meet up outdoors if possible. When meeting indoors, avoid poorly ventilated spaces and keep windows open.”
Tip of the iceberg
It comes as the head of the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday that a global rise in Covid-19 cases could be just the "tip of the iceberg" as some countries also report a drop in testing rates.
New infections jumped by eight per cent globally last week, compared to the previous week.
"Surges are to be expected, particularly in areas where measures to prevent transmission have been lifted. However, there are unacceptably high levels of mortality in many countries," WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.
A combination of factors was causing the increases, including the highly transmissible Omicron variant and the lifting of public health and social measures, said the WHO's technical lead on the pandemic Maria Van Kerkhove.
"We completely understand that the world needs to move on from Covid-19, wants to move on from Covid-19, but this virus spreads very efficiently between people," she said.
It comes as the WHO’s special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro, urged governments not to dismantle testing and contact tracing infrastructures.
It is understood that public health officials in Ireland are planning to “reboot” messaging around Covid-19 protection in response to rapidly rising hospitalisations with the virus, but there are no plans for mask mandates to return.