Self-isolation and Covid-19 testing advice has been changed in Ireland as for the fourth time this week the country recorded its highest number of daily cases.
A further 20,554 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were notified on Thursday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has urged the public to avoid mixing indoors with people from different households to stem the spread of the virus.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced guidance changes on Thursday evening.
Testing advice has been changed from seeking a PCR test with symptoms to using antigen testing at home.
Those who test positive with an antigen test should seek a PCR test to confirm the result.
Self-isolating advice for those who test positive for Covid-19 has also changed.
Those aged 12 and over, who have had their booster vaccine jabs for at least seven days, should self-isolate for seven days instead of the previous advice of 10 days.
Mr Donnelly said transmission is continuing to rapidly increase in Ireland and daily case numbers are substantially exceeding the highest previously reported in the pandemic to date.
“The 14-day incidence is now estimated at over 2,300 per 100,000 population,” he said.
“We are seeing levels of new daily cases in hospital that we have not seen since last January.
“While our booster rollout programme is going extremely well, the extent to which the epidemic is continuing to accelerate means that there is still significant concern regarding the likely impact of such high case counts on our health services.”
He has urged the public to “layer up” protective measures including wearing face coverings, good ventilation and antigen testing.
Dr Holohan urged people to keep their social contacts low in the days ahead.
He said the variant Omicron accounts for more than 90% of Covid-19 cases in Ireland.
“The most effective way to minimise the risk of any of us transmitting this virus to others is to avoid mixing indoors with people from other households,” he said.
“I know this is not the advice any one of us wants to hear, particularly in advance of New Year celebrations.
“However, given the current profile of the disease, it is essential that all of us continue to keep our social contacts as low as possible in the days ahead.
“In the last 24 hours, 148 people with Covid-19 were either admitted to hospital or received a ‘detected’ test result while in hospital.
“Hospitalisations at this level are not sustainable and are having a significant impact on our health service.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the booster vaccine jab will protect the majority from serious illness or hospital admission as well as protecting the health service.
“To date, over two million people have received their booster, without this very significant uptake, the current impact on hospitalisation would be considerably worse,” he said.
“Please come forward and avail of your booster as soon as it is available to you. If you have not yet had any Covid-19 vaccine, it is never too late, please come forward and avail of it as, without it, you are at risk of very significant illness if you are exposed to the virus.”