IRELAND enters 2022 in a stronger position to tackle Covid-19, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said, despite case numbers being 'high and concerning'.
Latest figures show there are a further 17,071 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 717 patients in hospital, of which 87 are in ICU.
Today's case figures are a significant decrease on Saturday's 23,281 cases, although mark an increase in hospitalisations, with 656 in hospital and 85 in ICU on Saturday.
Donnelly praised the country's vaccine roll-out in helping to tackle Covid-19, with today marking the opening of boosters to anyone aged 16 or over.
"2021 was a long and tough year for so many," said Donnelly.
"We begin 2022 in a stronger position thanks to vaccines and effective new treatments.
"Our case numbers are high and concerning, but good to see the rate of hospitalisations has fallen dramatically compared to this time last year.
"Our vaccination rollout has been superb. We have the 2nd highest uptake of booster vaccines in the EU.
"This is something everyone should be really proud of — an incredible national effort. Studies show you're up to 8 times more likely to end up in hospital if unvaccinated.
"Our death rate from Covid remains one of the lowest in the EU.
"While we have lost friends, family and loved ones to this terrible virus, many more would have suffered without your incredible efforts and sacrifices."
Donnelly added that 2021 saw the biggest increase in staff numbers since the HSE was established, with 131,000 staff now working in the service.
He also revealed that 800 permanent hospital beds were opened last year, while ICU bed numbers from 355 to 291.
More ICU beds will open this year, he added, with the ultimate aim being to increase critical care capacity to 446 beds.
There are over 11,300 more staff (WTE) working in our health service than there were at the beginning of 2020. This includes almost 3,000 nurses and midwives & 2,000 health and social care professionals + more doctors, support staff and others. 5/10
— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) January 2, 2022
While Donnelly said hospitalisations have 'fallen dramatically' compared to this time last year, the government's Covid-19 Data Hub suggests a like-for-like increase.
The hub says there were 581 Covid-19 patients in hospital on January 2, 2021, with 56 people in ICU.
Cases continued to rise during January 2021, peaking at 2.020 hospitalisations on January 18 and 221 in ICU on January 24.
Both figures were also the highest numbers respectively for the calendar year.
Like-for-like hospitalisation and ICU numbers for December 2021 were also higher than for December 2020.
The HSE does, however, stress that daily numbers are based on positive SARS-CoV-2 results uploaded to the HSE Covid-19 Care Tracker the preceding day and thus are provisional.
Like Donnelly, HSE chief Paul Reid was also cautiously optimistic about the future.
Taking to Twitter, he wrote: "Early days yet, but let's all hope & plan that with the great efforts of the public, our testers & tracers, vaccination teams & all healthcare professionals will mean that at some stage we can all look back on #Omicron.
"We're not there yet but these actions will benefit."