Ireland is at a point of “unease and apprehension” in the fight against Covid-19, the health service chief has said.
Paul Reid said there is “no certainty” when trying to predict what might happen with the virus and its variants.
But he said the latest data shows the incidence of the virus and case numbers are continuing to decline.
Speaking at the weekly HSE briefing, Mr Reid said there had been a 22% reduction in the total number of cases in the past 14 days.
Some 84% of the cases were confirmed in people under the age of 45, which Mr Reid said demonstrated the continued and strong benefits of the vaccination programme.
The 14-day incident rate in the country remains below 100 per 100,000 population.
On Thursday afternoon, there were 47 people in hospital with the virus, 13 of whom were in ICU.
The vaccines are definitely winning against the virus, but by any stretch, it's far too early to be declaring victory, or indeed taking a lap of honour at this stagePaul Reid
Mr Reid described the rise in Delta variant cases in the country as a “concerning trend”.
About a fifth of new Covid-19 cases in Ireland are the Delta variant, which was first identified in India.
He said it is between 40% and 60% more transmissible than the original virus and associated with a higher risk of hospitalisation.
“The vaccines are definitely winning against the virus, but by any stretch, it’s far too early to be declaring victory, or indeed taking a lap of honour at this stage,” Mr Reid said.
“From the health service perspective the truth is we don’t really know precisely how the Delta variant and other possible variants will affect us at this stage.”
But he said the HSE was administrating about 300,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines every week and was now on a firm trajectory to end what has been a “bleak” period.
He also told the briefing that the HSE would be outlining the latest data to the Government to assist its decision-making process when it comes to the easing of restrictions.
The Cabinet is to decide next Thursday whether it will give the green light for the further easing of Covid-19 restrictions next month.
Indoor hospitality is due to resume on July 5.
“We don’t envy them,” Mr Reid said. “It’s not an easy job, as they have to balance range of considerations and inputs they will get.
“We all do want to keep everyone safe and well. And at the same time we all want a normal life restored as quickly as we possibly can.”
But Mr Reid warned the “dark days” of what happened to the health service in January and February cannot happen again.
“We will be doing everything possible in our power to protect all of the great gains that we’ve made over recent weeks,” he added.
Dr Colm Henry told the briefing the 14-day incidence is 92 per 100,000, now the lowest it has been since August/September last year.
The HSE’s chief clinical officer said there were no outbreaks of the virus across nursing homes, community hospitals, and acute hospitals in the past week.
He described the uptake of vaccines to date in Ireland as “very high” and to the “envy” of many other countries.
Almost two-thirds (62%) of the eligible adult population have received one dose of a vaccine and almost 37% are fully protected.
Discussing the Delta variant, Dr Henry said a total of 210 cases have been identified in Ireland to date.
“It’s going to go up for sure,” he said.
“There’s no way it’s going to stay at this figure. There’s no reason why we would be any different from other countries in seeing this take off.”
Some 27% of the Delta cases are travel-related, while half of them are a close contact of a case.
Earlier, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said international travel would resume on July 19 as planned despite concerns over the Delta variant.
Everyone is dying to travel to visit friends and family and for work and have a holiday and we want to see that backEamon Ryan
He said he believed Nphet’s advice next week will focus on the planned easing on July 5.
Speaking in Howth, north Dublin, Mr Ryan said: “The 19th July, the vast majority of people who are vaccinated coming in or going out will be able to travel unimpeded.”
He added: “Talking to the airline industry, what we said is we didn’t want to have a stop-start, we wanted to make sure we got things back on a regular step-by-step basis.
“So on 19th July when those Covid certs come into action we will change the rules from essential travel only to allowing all sorts of other travel – that will operate.
“Everyone is dying to travel to visit friends and family and for work and have a holiday and we want to see that back. But we want to see it in a way that’s not stop-start, we get the public health aspect right.”
Mr Ryan said the plan was working so he did not think it should be changed.
“We are part of EU and we have agreed that we are best following EU approach. We will listen to Nphet but there is strength in following a common approach,” he said.
“Doing it in uniform makes sense, it makes it predictable and makes it easy to manage, much better to follow the EU approach.”