Updated: 10.30am. Additional reporting by Vivienne Clarke.
The situation with Covid-19 in Ireland is "fragile but stable", Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said, warning that he expects daily case numbers to top 4,000 on Friday or Saturday.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, Mr Varadkar said high case numbers were a cause of concern, adding that he could not rule out the reintroduction of restrictions, stating to do so would be "reckless".
The Tánaiste said the "vaccine wall" was working, while the Government is also encouraging the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to examine the use of an anti-viral pill to treat the virus which recently gained approval in the UK.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said the drug, Molnupiravir, is safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospital admission and death in people with mild to moderate Covid who are at extra risk from the virus.
Mr Varadkar's comments come as there were 458 patients with Covid in hospital on Thursday, 90 of whom were receiving treatment in intensive care.
Meanwhile, the HSE’s director of acute services, Liam Woods said 10 scheduled operations per week are being cancelled at 21 hospitals across the country because of rising Covid cases.
Speaking to the same programme, he said the demand on emergency departments, independent from Covid, is also very high.
The concern was the pressure on GPs and community care had led to an increase of 10 per cent to 15 per cent in attendance at emergency departments compared to 2019 levels, he added.
Mr Woods also said details of the Winter Plan should be revealed in “the next few days”. The reality was that work on the plan had commenced last summer, but the particulars of the plan were still “a matter for dialogue”.
He said this was “simply” a reflection that the allocation from Budget 2022 has to be translated into the service plan for the coming years.
The increase in attendance in emergency departments had been driven by difficulties in accessing care in the community, particularly in the over-75 category, he added. This was reflected in a high need for care which is putting pressure on the system.
The wider plan is to grow capacity in acute and community services to meet population demands, Mr Woods explained. Over 1,100 extra beds had been opened since the start of Covid and the number of intensive care beds had increased from 255 to 300.
“That’s going to need to continue. We’re going to need to meet the growing health care demand.”
In the short term, the HSE was using the private hospital system to provide 1,000 beds per week, use of which varied depending on the phase of the pandemic. Urgent surgeries were being diverted while cancer care would continue “no matter what is happening,” he said.
Emergency departments would “always” remain open, Mr Woods stressed.