IRELAND IS to be 'stuck with masks' for some time to come as the Delta variant spreads across the country.
While some countries-- such as the United Kingdom-- have ended mask mandates, instead giving people the choice, and have dropped social distancing measures altogether, Ireland is remaining far more cautious.
Masks remain mandatory, social distancing measures are strict and only the fully vaccinated or recovered can eat or drink indoors.
Other countries who ended social distancing measures earlier in the year-- such as Israel and the United States-- are clamping back down as the Delta variant threatens the progress made.
Despite Ireland's caution, cases, hospitalisations and deaths continue to rise-- though not nearly at the same rate as the devastating third wave last winter-- and public health officials have warned that masks, at least, will be with us for a long time to come.
Intensive care consultant Dr Catherine Motherway, who has been at the forefront of Ireland's battle with the pandemic since the early days, spoke to RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland where she said Ireland will be 'stuck with the masks' even if social distancing requirements are eased.
"We still have to comply with public health guidance. I think we will be stuck with the masks for quite some time," she told the show.
Masks and general good hygiene practices will remain extremely important, particularly into the winter, she said, and urged everyone to "continue doing what we're doing".
"If you haven't been vaccinated, get vaccinated."
Vaccines are helping hugely against the battle with the Delta variant, but hospitals are continuing to see "a number of people who are not yet vaccinated for various reasons."
She warned: "For the unvaccinated it is the same as the last time. They get respiratory failure. They get really sick. They have generally got underlying conditions, including obesity, heart disease, lung disease, that sort of patient comes to us."
Dr Motherway is "hopeful" that hospitalisations, ICU numbers and deaths will not rise to the numbers seen in January and February of this year, "but it's still a challenge".
Yesterday evening, a further 1,558 additional cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland; 262 patients are in hospital, with 51 in intensive care.