Another coronavirus surge similar to the rapid onset of the infection in Ireland would be very difficult to manage, an official warned.
The country has played down hopes of a swift easing of social-distancing restrictions and is expected to extend the emergency measures early in May.
In early March, the country went from 50 people in intensive care to 140 – and that total remains “significantly elevated”, Professor Philip Nolan said.
He added: “Currently, there are 106 patients in ICU.
“If a similar surge occurred on top of our current ICU figure, we would find it very difficult to manage the treatment of patients.”
The chair of Ireland’s expert group modelling the disease’s spread said: “This reflects the sensitivity required in relaxing restrictions.”
A near lockdown on movement was implemented in Ireland in mid-March, some days before the UK took similar measures.
Another 43 people with Covid-19 in the Republic have died, taking the total to 1,232, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said on Thursday evening.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said a “sizeable” number were in intensive care.
“They are still big numbers,” he said.
He added: “There is a risk that if further spread of the infection were to occur we would get into difficulties sooner than if we had lower numbers to make our recommendations.”
He said the number of ICU admissions had fallen quite a bit over recent days.
There are 20,612 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.
A total of 2,706 (13%) have been hospitalised and, of those, 360 admitted to ICU.
Prof Nolan said: “It is a little bit worrying that the numbers in hospital are not falling as quickly as you might expect and we need to understand why.”
He said it showed how important social distancing was.
He added: “If we drive it out of the population, we will drive it out of hospitals and long-term residential care.
“The more successful we are as a population in suppressing transmission of the virus within the general population, the more successful we will be at protecting healthcare workers and protecting people in long-term residential care.”
'Extraordinary asks of our citizens have been made in recent weeks. So it is very welcome that a roadmap for exiting these emergency restrictions and measures in a safe manner will be set-out by the acting government tomorrow' â @MaryLouMcDonald#WEareInThisTogether #StayHome pic.twitter.com/lMSgdWvEOn— Sinn FÃ©in (@sinnfeinireland) April 30, 2020
A total of 5,684 cases are associated with healthcare workers, latest official statistics showed.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar identified five criteria for lifting or easing Covid-19 restrictions and warned progress would be slow and gradual.
They included progress of disease; healthcare capacity and resilience; testing and contact tracing capacity; ability to shield at-risk groups and risk of secondary disease.
The Taoiseach said: “A plan is being developed to ease the lockdown and a roadmap to re-open Ireland.
“Unfortunately for those who would like an immediate return to pre-Covid-19 levels, it will be slow and gradual.
“It will be done in a step-wise, tiered manner and will require continuous efforts to try and suppress the virus.
“I know the lockdown is difficult and people feel cooped up and are feeling frustrated and trapped.
“We must keep doing what we are doing because it is working.
“We owe it to those who fight the virus every day and we owe it to the memory of those who have lost their lives and as a country we owe it to each other.”