HSE chief executive Paul Reid has said Ireland could see 3,000 Covid-19 cases per day as the testing system catches up with reported cases.
Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland, the HSE Chief said the health service is on "high alert" as Covid-19 cases rise and contact tracing and Ireland's testing system tackle the growing coronavirus infection in the community.
Mr Reid said people need to reduce contacts and stay at home to protect themselves in the coming days and weeks.
Asked about the 4,000 under-reported cases, Paul Reid pointed out there were 35,000 swabs taken yesterday. He said the system cannot cope with the lab tests being handed over to be put onto the infectious disease register.
He said it hasn't, however, had an impact in terms of contacting people. "The real picture over the last few days is most likely getting close to 3,000 cases per day. That is the extent of the virus we are dealing with.
"When we get to these levels, it has a severe impact across areas, not just our systems, the health service and the volume that any system can cope with."
Asked about a decision not to test close contacts of confirmed cases and instead advise them to restrict their movements, Mr Reid said this does not represent a failure of the testing system.
Mr Reid said in mid-December, the tracing system was contacting 9,000 people per week between cases and their contacts. The HSE chief said this has increased dramatically in recent days and yesterday tracers contacted 13,000 people in one day.
Mr Reid said the scale could increase from 9,000 per week to 100,000 per week if tracers need to contact this amount every day.
“What we have to do now is prioritise our capacity. Everybody remembers the 100,000 per week capacity that we wanted to build, we now have 175,000 per week capacity.
“So we have to prioritise that now for the most symptomatic people. And that’s in essence what we have had to do,” said Mr Reid.
Private hospitals are providing support for some health services Mr Reid said, as the health system grapples with Covid-19 cases. The HSE boss said the health system went into winter in a stronger position than previous years as a result of this year's investment and that trolley numbers are down over 70% compared to last year. The impact of Covid-19 on hospital capacity is disproportionate though due to infection but said the system is managing.
Discussions about capacity for a surge in Covid-19 hospitalisations are ongoing with private hospitals the HSE chief said.
Meanwhile, an additional 2,000 Covid-19 vaccines have been made available to vaccinate health staff in three Cork hospitals this weekend.
The South/South West Hospital Group (S/SWHG) confirmed the allocation which will be administered to "public-facing health care staff" in Cork University Hospital, Mercy University Hospital, and South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital by Sunday.