Thousands of people with Covid-19 may be being missed and unaware they have the infection as the daily death toll from the virus continues to mount, it emerged yesterday.
More than 30,000 close contacts of the 11,584 people diagnosed with the virus this week have not been followed up for testing by the HSE because of pressures on the system and cuts enforced as cases have soared.
Although they have been informed they should restrict their movements and will be tested if they develop symptoms, a significant number will have picked up the virus and be unaware they are infected.
This puts them at risk of passing on what could be the more infectious UK variant.
Each infected person has an average of around three close contacts .
It comes as 63 more Covid-19 related deaths were reported yesterday, marking another tragic day after 46 fatalities on Tuesday.
Hospital wards and intensive care units were overwhelmed as admissions of coronavirus patients rose to 1,770, a jump of 133 in the previous 24 hours.
Doctors are desperately converting more beds into temporary intensive care units, but even these are becoming stretched.
The number of newly diagnosed cases of the virus fell to 2,640 yesterday, but the pressure on hospitals is expected to extend well into February.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned "we have a long, long way to go".
"In the coming weeks ahead, we will need to draw upon our reserves of resilience from springtime as we can expect to see hospitalisations, admissions to intensive care and mortality related to Covid-19 increase day on day.
"The best way that we can all support one another now is to stay apart.
"Sadly, what we are seeing now is a result of the very high daily confirmed case numbers we experienced for successive weeks.
"To ensure our hospitals and loved ones remain protected and stay alive to receive the vaccine, please continue to follow public health advice and stay home."
He appealed to people who have urgent symptoms for illnesses not related to Covid-19 to seek medical help.
"At this challenging time, it is important to remind those that need acute care that hospitals are there for those that need them.
"No one should ignore any worrying signs that may need medical attention, such as lumps, chest pain or other new symptoms.
"Phone your GP if you have any concerns, not just those related to Covid-19," Dr Holohan said.
It is estimated there were around 2,000 missed cancers during the first months of the pandemic and cardiologists warned the failure of patients attending with heart attacks and strokes left them without life-saving treatment.
The HSE is now having to call back to work some staff who were close contacts of a confirmed case because of absences across hospitals and the health system which are now as high as 7,000. The staff are tested and monitored.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said there is a "national emergency and we are at the point where staff are not able to cope".
"There are huge numbers of very sick patients. Over 2,500 healthcare workers a week are getting the virus.
"Decisions at every level are happening too late to prevent infection and overburden."