Testing of all close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases could resume as early as this week, the head of the HSE has said.
Paul Reid said wider community testing can resume if there are several days in a row where the country has fewer than 2,000 cases confirmed per day.
1,378 new cases of the virus were confirmed yesterday evening, the lowest number reported this month.
It was the second day in a row where the number of cases fell below 2,000.
The surge in cases during late December and early January meant the HSE and NPHET decided to halt testing of close contacts so the testing system could focus on people with symptoms
On today's Newstalk Breakfast, however, Mr Reid said the HSE wants to get back to testing all those close contacts as soon as possible.
He said: “Thankfully, we saw yesterday again below 2,000 [cases]. If we start to see that as a trend for the next few days, we will be very anxious to get back testing all close contacts.
“Later this week, if we get a consistent level below 2,000 each day this week… we want to get there as quickly as possible.”
Mr Reid said there remains a 'significant challenge' in the hospital system, but the decisions made by critical care teams to manage care has 'saved lives'.
He said: “We’ve 25 ICU beds available on a national level. If we get to the 345 beds - which we now have open on our surge plan... it gets to the point that providing the levels of care want to do and always try to do becomes higher risk.
"Everything we do every day tries to avoid that.”
The HSE CEO said there's no clarity yet on how exactly the likely cuts to AstraZeneca's planned supply of vaccines to the EU will impact the vaccination programme here.
However, he said he's always believed there will be 'significant bumps in the road' in the vaccine programme due to the level of demand.
With EU leaders due to discuss the issue this week, Mr Reid explained: “What we do know is the supply they committed to us for February is committed… we will be starting the process of vaccinating those over the age of 70 through our GPs and pharmacists.
"We don’t know how far into that cohort we will get complete… we’ll have to clarify that this week."
There have been growing calls over the past few weeks for the Government to introduce mandatory quarantine for anyone arriving into the country during the pandemic.
Mr Reid said there's certainly something different about the new variants of the virus that have emerged in the likes of Brazil and South Africa, and the situation here could be even worse if some of those variants become widespread here in Ireland.
He said: “We need to look at everything, specifically around quarantine travel.
“I just have a fear at this stage we start to lose focus about what are the basics and what works - it is always going to come back to human behaviour.
“I’ve seen throughout this pandemic the focus shift from various different solutions - whether it’s address the meat plants, address the direct provision centres, address the young people… now it’s quarantine and travel.”
He said he's concerned people are always 'striving for the next silver bullet', and any solution needs to be 'practical and implementable'.
However, he said it is important we get transmission rates back down to where they were last summer and to keep them there.