The Government is not taking a “hands-off” approach to Covid-19, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
He rejected any suggestion that his Government is relaxed about the spread of Covid-19 in the community, as case numbers soar.
On Thursday afternoon, the Department of Health confirmed 11,741 new cases of the virus - 5,252 confirmed through the PCR testing system and a further 6,489 logged through the HSE's antigen portal.
As of 8am on Thursday, there were 1,535 patients with the virus in hospital, 58 of whom were in ICU.
The figures come as health officials have warned that hospital services are coming under major pressure due to the latest wave of infections.
"We have been guided all along by public health and public health advice," the Taoiseach said.
“This is a highly transmissible variant. Much more transmissible than any variant we have witnessed before.”
But he said it is less virulent, with fewer people seriously ill in hospital and in intensive care.
He acknowledged there is serious pressure on hospitals, but he rejected calls from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine for a return to mask-wearing indoors and home-working.
“Suggesting that if we just brought in masks it would change all that doesn’t cut it,” he told RTÉ radio.
“The guidance is that people should wear masks.
“The regulatory situation wouldn’t change the hospital pressures, is the point I’m making.”
There is no longer a mandatory requirement to wear masks indoors or on public transport.
Mr Martin insisted: “It is extraordinarily hard to stop this particular variant.”
He said Government advice is to wear masks and no further guidance has been issued by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.
He also suggested there are some tentative signs that the worst of the current wave could be easing.
“Hopefully we are seeing some positive signals in terms of this wave of this variant,” Mr Martin said.
“We are not hands-off. We are putting a new advisory group together to really advise Government over the next 12 months.”
He also played down calls for a return to remote working.
“Not all offices are fully returned. We are still on the phased basis.”