Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn said nearly four times as many people have died with Covid-19 so far this month compared to all of December.
So far this month, there have been 688 deaths associated with the virus compared to 175 deaths in December and 164 in November.
His comments come as seven additional deaths were confirmed this evening by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
Today's figure brings the death toll in Ireland to 2,977.
The seven people whose deaths are reported today were aged between 43 and 94 years.
The HPSC has been notified of 1,372 confirmed cases.
In the two-week period to January 24, there have been 36,486 new cases of Covid-19.
Of the 1,372 cases reported today, 502 are located in Dublin, 164 in Cork, 77 in Wexford and 66 in Louth.
The remaining 488 cases are spread across all other counties.
Cases are now declining at a rate of nearly 10% a day.
Professor Philip Nolan, who chairs NPHET's modelling group, said this is down to people sticking to the restrictions.
"We can clearly see the efforts they are making to stay apart, to prevent transmission of the virus and that is transmitting into the very large change in the behaviour of the epidemic growing at about 18% per day in the immediate run-up to the New Year period and now the number of cases as you can quite clearly see in the daily counts decreasing at 8-10% per day."
As of this afternoon, there are 1,905 Covid-19 patients in hospitals across the country. Of these, 219 are in ICU.
There have been 58 hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.
Prof Nolan said that we are seeing continued rapid improvement in the incidence of the virus and numbers in hospital are plateauing and expected to decline very slowly over the coming weeks.
He said the fundamental message is that we need to maintain the efforts that have got us here for several weeks to come.
"It peaked at around 140 admissions per day. On average it is below 100 over the last seven days and we saw 74 admissions today.
"The number in ICU is plateauing at over 200. Again, the number of admissions per day may be starting to decline there and that may be the beginnings of a slow decrease in the numbers in intensive care."
Prof Nolan said he expects there to be at least 1,000 people in hospital with the virus for several more weeks.
"Despite all the hard work that we are doing it is going to take a long time for numbers in hospital to reduce. We do expect to see numbers in hospital at or above 1,000 even out to the end of February."
The 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 currently stands at 766.2.
Three counties have a 14-day incidence rate above 1,000 - Monaghan (1,485.7), Mayo (1,213.7) and Louth (1,151.4).
The five-day moving average of new cases is 1,926.
Speaking this evening, Dr Glynn said there have been reports of significant outbreaks linked with funerals in a good number of places around the country in the past number of months.
He said that in the past number of months, there have been repeated reports of large outbreaks associated with significant mobility and in some cases mortality associated with family gatherings, in particular funerals.
"It is a particularly sensitive area and it is a particularly difficult time for people, especially right now.
"We know it's not easy but equally, the last thing that we want is for more people to get sick or die as a result of not adhering to the measures that are there to protect them and their families in the first place."
There have been 42 positive Covid-19 cases identified at a meat processing plant in Co Wexford.
Slaney Foods says the cases were discovered on Friday following routine screening of staff.
The company says its site in Bunclody is now operating at a significantly reduced capacity.
It says it will continue to work with the HSE on the matter.
The Covid sub-committee are meeting today to discuss measures on foreign travel, cross-border traffic, and the reopening of schools.
It is expected the meeting will run until late this evening.
The committee will also discuss an extension of Level 5 restrictions beyond this month before recommendations are brought to Cabinet tomorrow morning.
The new measures being discussed by the Covid sub-cabinet committee today, which are expected to be signed off by Government tomorrow include:
- Garda checkpoints outside airports to stop non-essential travel.
- Introduction of much stricter sanctions in terms of the five-kilometre rule to stop people flying. This will include fines for those who try to go abroad for non-essential reasons.
- Mandatory quarantining for those arriving into the country who don't have a negative PCR test.
- A ban on holiday visas or short-term visas for those coming from certain countries in South America and mandatory quarantining.
- Antigen testing at motorway services areas close to Dublin Port and Rosslare for hauliers travelling to France from Thursday.
- Strengthening the passenger locator form with more questions asked and more follow-ups after a person arrives in the country.
Vaccination of the third group in the Government's Vaccine Allocation Strategy will begin next month.
Under the strategy, people aged 70 and older will be vaccinated in the following order: 85 and older, 80-84, 75-79, 70-74.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the start of the community vaccination programme in February is subject to the regulatory approval of AstraZeneca.
Mr Donnelly said Ireland will receive a delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine within the expected range for February despite the anticipated disruption to deliveries announced last week.
It is expected the delivery in March will be more impacted and will be considerably lower than was originally stated by the company.
The Health Minister said the most vulnerable in our society will continue to be prioritised against the backdrop of limited supply.
"For the moment, people do not need to take any specific action. The next stage of our vaccine programme will begin with those aged 85 years and older and will be administered initially through GPs in their surgeries," said Mr Donnelly.
"The HSE is preparing a public information campaign that will provide all necessary details in advance and ensure that everyone knows when, where and how to access their vaccine."
Up to January 24, the HSE administered 143,000 vaccine doses.
Mr Donnelly said every possible nursing home resident has received one dose while some have received their second dose.
"Healthcare workers are also a priority. Second doses will be administered over the coming weeks to 77,000 healthcare workers.
"We will continue to roll out first and second doses to our remaining frontline healthcare workers during February."
Some nursing home residents and staff who had Covid-19 recently were unable to receive the vaccine. Vaccination teams were also unable to vaccinate in some facilities where there were particularly large outbreaks.
"As we have seen in recent days, in these early stages things can change quickly and we have to build delivery around supply.
Mr Donnelly confirmed his commitment to providing the public with daily figures for vaccine administration but said the HSE has advised that there is a backlog of figures to be inputted and validated.
"It is working hard to achieve full utilisation of the vaccination IT system at which point it will be in a position to provide updates."
The EU Commissioner for Health says AstraZeneca's explanation for its slow-down in vaccine delivery is "not satisfactory".
Ursula von der Leyen spoke to the company's chief executive this morning and a second meeting is scheduled for tonight.
It emerged at the weekend the company is to cut its vaccine delivery to the EU by 60% in the first quarter of this year.
Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the vaccines that have been pre-ordered must be provided swiftly.
"The answers from the country have not been satisfactory so far and that is why a second meeting is scheduled for tonight.
"The European Union wants the ordered and pre-financed doses to be delivered as soon as possible and we want our contract to be fully fulfilled.
Meanwhile in Ireland, there have been 143,000 Covid-19 vaccinations administered.
That figure was reached last night and is slightly ahead of the target of 140,000.