Dr Motherway cautioned the public to be careful while awaiting the Covid-19 vaccine.
She told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show the high rate of viral transmission had increased with the arrival of new variants.
There was still a “significant burden of disease” on the hospital system, she added. The number of patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units (ICU) accounted for half of the country’s ICU capacity.
“This time last year we didn’t know this was coming. We were witnessing the scenes in Italy, which were horrendous,” Dr Motherway said.
“Now we know that we have the vaccine. We know that we have better treatments. We know this as a preventable disease.”
The vaccination of healthcare staff meant that the health system was “much safer.”
Dr Motherway said she understood people’s frustration with the restrictions, but there remained “a lot of work” to be done to reduce numbers and in the meantime “we need to be careful” while awaiting the vaccine.
“What we need is a degree of patience. It has been a horrendous 12 months, we’re not out of the woods yet, but there is a way out of the woods.”
There were many people waiting for procedures to go ahead, which had been deferred for a long time due to the pandemic, she added. “They are waiting to get back into hospital.”