Thousands of cases of Omicron have not been captured in official Covid-19 figures since early December, officials have been told.
As reported in The Irish Times, it is understood that at least 380,000 Omicron cases, and possibly as many as 500,000 have not been officially recorded.
The State's Covid-19 Oversight Group was told that the number of Covid-19 cases was significantly higher than the estimated 220,000 cases of Omicron confirmed through the State’s PCR testing system in the same period.
This comes as the PCR testing system is under major pressure due to the rise in people with Covid-19 symptoms or positive antigen tests looking to book an appointment.
High rates of test positivity, which have been around 50 per cent, are seen as an indicator that several cases are going undetected, meaning the level of infection is higher than what the testing system can accommodate.
On Wednesday, there were a further 17,656 confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Although there are a high number of infections, there is optimism in the fact that case numbers and hospital admissions are not translating to intensive care (ICU) admissions.
Dr Michael Power, a consultant at Beaumont Hospital and the Health Service Executive’s clinical lead for critical care, said the ICU situation, with 94 Covid-19 patients nationally, was stable.
“If we look back at this time last year we recall that the figures were going up at an increase of net 20 per day,” Dr Power said.
However, he did add that it was “too early to say” what the impact of Omicron would be.
According to the Taoiseach, the “bulk” of ICU cases have been infected by the Delta variant.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) are set to meet on Thursday to discuss the current Covid-19 situation. It is understood that changes to close contact isolation requirements will be considered.
Return of schools
As schools return on Thursday, principals across the State have warned that some classes will have to stay at home due to the high number of staff unavailable due to Covid-19.
A recent survey carried out by the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) found that 40 per cent of schools are worried they do not have enough staff to cover absences amid the rising number of Covid-19 infections.
“It’s going to be very challenging,” said IPPN chief executive Pairic Clerkin.
“We expect most schools will open but may have to rely on special-education teachers or students to stay open.”
The Department of Education has said that schools should prioritise in-person teaching for Junior and Leaving Cert students and children with special needs if teaching staff are unavailable.
A number of schools have already had to inform parents that classes will not return until next week due or will operate on alternate days due to Covid-19.