Hugging family and friends over Christmas 'an extreme risk'
The head of the HSE has warned that hugging friends and family over the Christmas period poses an "extreme risk".
Paul Reid urged people to keep a "heightened level of guard" while out socialising over the festive season.
Speaking at the weekly Covid-19 briefing, Mr Reid said Christmas Day could be ruined by people having to self-isolate if they become infected with Covid-19.
Outlining what he described as three phases of risk, the HSE boss said the first will be this weekend when restaurants and gastro pubs reopen and the second from next week until December 18.
The third phase of risk is the week of Christmas and into the New Year during which many families of inter-generations will mix.
"It's those three levels risk that we are watching very closely from a HSE perspective," he said.
"For this week as restaurants and gastro pubs reopen, it is a great opportunity for people to meet with friends and family, it gives people some relief after what has been a challenging few weeks and very challenging year.
"Equally, we are encouraging everybody as you do meet up, keep your heightened level of guard at all stages.
"It's not just meeting in restaurants but it's about people travelling to restaurants and leaving together when people's guard can understandably drop maybe after a glass or two of wine.
"Or maybe as people leave each other and may not see each for Christmas, our natural inkling is to hug each other and wish each other happy Christmas, which we know in the current environment is an extreme risk.
"The risk for us over this weekend is that we begin to see an increase in cases in the coming week or two.
"Then the phases after that between now and December 18 when people will be meeting and going Christmas shopping, again the risk increases to another level."
The chief executive also said that Ireland should commence its vaccination programme in the early days of January.
Mr Reid said the vaccine has give the nation a "new sense of hope".
He said that Ireland will have the capacity to acquire almost 16 million vaccine doses.
"There will be no shortage of the doses of vaccine, they will arrive over an extended period of time.
"They will require sequencing or a prioritisation process which is being finalised," Mr Reid added.
However, he warned that it will be some time before the vaccine is Ireland's "first line of defence".
Mr Reid said there are nine outbreaks of Covid-19 in hospitals which has led to 733 staff not being able to work.
The HSE chief operations officer Anne O'Connor said the HSE continues to see a "significant number of staff" affected in Tallaght, Letterkenny, St Columcille's Hospital and St Vincent's Hospital.
"This has resulted in wards being closed to admission, wards being closed and not being able to staff areas and therefore having a knock-on effect and impact on our capacity to bring people in for scheduled care for outpatients," Dr O'Connor added.
"That means we have to reduce activity where we can."
Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said the R value is stabilising between 0.8 and 1.