The Taoiseach has warned that the Delta Covid-19 variant has not yet reached its peak in Ireland.
Micheál Martin was speaking after the chief medical officer said the number of newly confirmed Covid cases in hospital in the last 24 hours had reached a level not seen since mid-February.
The Department of Health has reported an additional 2,125 confirmed cases of Covid-19.
On Saturday, there were 259 patients in hospital with the disease, up by eight on the previous day. The number in intensive care rose by two to 54.
The Taoiseach spoke to the media in Cork where he attended an official homecoming event for the Rowing Ireland team from the Tokyo Olympics.
Asked about the rise in Covid cases, Mr Martin said: “We are concerned about the Delta variant and the increase in numbers. At a meeting last week the CMO (chief medical officer) articulated that concern along with the Nphet representatives and the CEO of the HSE in terms of the impact on hospitalisations and ICUs.
“Vaccination is the key. We are continuing to vaccinate. The younger age cohorts are still not enjoying the full protection of that vaccination programme, having received first doses later than the older age cohorts.
“So we did anticipate this increase, we anticipate an increase over the next number of weeks. We have not reached the peak of the Delta wave yet, and of course any time the disease is increasing at this rate is a time for concern.
“So, I would appeal to people to watch the fundamentals in terms of social distancing, wearing masks, indoors in particular and adhering to the basic guidelines.”
The Taoiseach continued: “We are preparing next week a series of meetings in terms of how we manage the next phase of Covid-19.
“We will obviously take advice from the CMO and from Nphet. They are meeting on the 25th and then the Covid cabinet committee on the 27th and the cabinet is meeting in full on the 31st when we will decide on the next stage and the timelines involved for the different sectors and particularly those sectors that are not yet reopened.”
His remarks echoed those of chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan who said that the rise in the Covid infection rate was causing “significant concern”.
Dr Holohan tweeted: “The number of newly confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospital in the last 24 hours has reached a level not seen since mid-February.
“This upward trend in serious infection is of significant concern, increasing the pressure on frontline healthcare services and non-COVID care.”
He added: “The Covid-19 vaccination programme is vital to our collective effort to minimise the transmission of this virus in families, in workplaces and communities.
“I would urge those who are unvaccinated to come forward for vaccination as soon as possible and to take all recommended doses to limit your risk of severe infection.
“It is critical for everyone to stay safe by following the public health advice as part of their daily routine.
“To protect yourself, consider each activity for its level of risk to your health, regularly wash hands, wear a mask when appropriate & look out for each other by keeping a 2m distance, avoid crowds, manage your social contacts & choose outdoors where possible for meeting others.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Health Service Executive said people who decide not to get vaccinated against Covid-19 are putting themselves and others at higher risk.
Paul Reid urged people not to dismiss public health advice and said it is “never too late” to get vaccinated.
His warning comes as further walk-in Covid-19 vaccination clinics opened across Ireland this weekend.
Mr Reid tweeted: “You may decide to ignore strong advice today from many of the top medics in the country. But please don’t dismiss it.
“If, as an adult, you decide not to be vaccinated, you do put yourself and others at much higher risk.
“We won’t leave anyone behind & it’s never too late.”