Ireland has highest daily covid-19 rate in the world

Ireland had one of the lowest coronavirus rates in Europe. It is now the highest in the world.

Ireland has had 10,100 confirmed covid-19 cases per million people in the last seven days - the highest in the world - according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The skyrocketing number of new cases has been blamed on the lifting of restrictions over the Christmas period and the prevalence of the highly contagious UK variant of the virus.

The taoiseach (Ireland's prime minister) Mícheál Martin said he is "not ashamed" of his government's handling of the covid-19 crisis, denying that it had given mixed messages by opening up sections of the economy - including restaurants and gastro-pubs - ahead of the Christmas season.

"It's not as simple as that" - said Martin - "We had been in a very prolonged period of restrictions of one kind of another and coming into the December period we had six weeks of Level 5," (Ireland's toughest lockdown restrictions).

Martin also said that public compliance with Ireland's highest level restrictions "was weakening" in the lead-up to Christmas.

Dr Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergency response programme, said: “My own country in Ireland ... has suffered one of the most acute increases in disease incidence of any country in the world. And not due to the variant let me add, but due to increased social mixing and reduction of physical distancing.”

On 11 January Ireland recorded 4,929 new cases of covid-19 and eight more coronavirus-related deaths, as health authorities warn that Ireland's hospitals are "beyond strain."