"Brighter days are ahead" thanks to the progress being made in the fight against COVID-19, the HSE's Chief Clinical Officer has said.
Dr Colm Henry says there's still "some time to go" before we see the full impact of the vaccination programme, but the country is "making strides".
There's been increased optimism about Ireland's progress in recent days, ahead of the Government's decision next week on which restrictions should be eased.
There has been some concern around an increase in case numbers reported yesterday, with 617 new cases being the highest daily figure since April 1st.
However, Dr Henry told Newstalk Breakfast many of the key indicators are showing very positive trends.
He said the five-day average has decreased dramatically compared to nearly 7,000 being reported in January - an improvement described as an "astonishing turnaround".
Hospitalisations, meanwhile, are down from 2,000 at the peak of the second wave to fewer than 200 now.
Dr Henry said there are still people coming into hospitals and ICU, but there’s now less harm to vulnerable groups compared to the rate of COVID-19 in the community.
He said: “The harm it’s doing to vaccinated groups is certainly reducing - but remember it’s not just older people or vulnerable people admitted to hospital.
“It will take some time yet for the vaccination programme to cover not just over 70s, nursing homes and healthcare workers."
He said we're likely to see an "incremental phased opening” of the country, while we wait for the vaccine rollout to "seep through" to the wider population.
However, he added: “Brighter days are ahead - we’re not out of it yet, but we’re making strides, definitely.”
Johnson & Johnson vaccine
Meanwhile, National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is to work through the weekend to consider how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be used here.
The EMA says it has found a possible link between the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and very rare cases of unusual blood clots.
However, it says the benefits still outweigh the risk.
While the AstraZeneca vaccine has been limited to over-60s, there have been calls for Johnson & Johnson to be used more widely.
Leo Varadkar yesterday said limiting the use of the jab to older age groups would leave Ireland with “hundreds of thousands of vaccines we can’t use,”
Dr Colm Henry says there’s ‘no doubt’ vaccine availability and delivery schedules will play into NIAC's decision.
He said: “I’m not a member of NIAC, but I know some of the NIAC members very well. They work really hard, and are very aware of their responsibilities.
“I know what factors into their decisions are the supplies, and how quickly we can get the vaccine out to people. That played into their decision with the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
He said there’s more assurance coming from both Europe and the US about the use of the J&J vaccine.
He said: “It’s a good vaccine, it works well, it’s single-use - attractive certainly for mass vaccination centres and certain vulnerable groups.”