Level 5 restrictions are under discussion at a Cabinet meeting this morning following advice from public health officials.
Restaurants and gastropubs are expected to be told to close on Christmas Eve under plans going to Cabinet.
The ban on flights from the UK, which is set to expire at midnight tonight, is also being extended until the end of the year.
Speaking on his way into the meeting this morning, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said the Government will introduce new restrictions over a series of staggered dates.
“They won’t be all on the same date over the holiday period,” he said.
The Minister said new restrictions were “necessary because of what we’ve seen, not just in Ireland, but in other countries too.”
He said there was real concern that Covid-19 numbers are growing rapidly and across all age groups. Numbers are growing “just as fast in the older cohort as in the younger cohort” which was “slightly different from October when it was mainly young people.”
“When you lose control, it’s very difficult to get it back. We want to keep control the way we have in this country.”
Minister Ryan said arrangements with the UK will have to change at the end of the year “anyway” as the UK will be leaving the European Union.
Also speaking on the way into the meeting, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said public health doctors and infectious disease doctors were deeply concerned at how quickly the virus had been spreading in recent weeks and about the new variant of the disease identified in the UK.
The Chief Medical Officer had recommended a return to Level 5 restrictions and “that’s what will be considered” by the Cabinet, he said.
The “job right now” was to keep people alive and safe, he said. The best way to do that was to slow the virus down and get the vaccination programme up and running “very quickly.”
“On Christmas Day an awful lot of people in every county in this country are going to be sitting down with their families and having a Christmas Day, who otherwise wouldn't have been if this virus had been let out of control,” he said.
Mr Donnelly said it was good news that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had been authorised by the European Medicines Agency ahead of time. Plans would be in place from today to get the vaccine into the country.
“We will begin vaccinating this side of the New Year,” he said.
The Minister added that he was hopeful that the Moderna vaccine would be authorised in the first week of January.
Christmas Eve restrictions
Last night the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan made a presentation to the Coalition party leaders, setting out a stark picture of rising case numbers as well as fears over the new strain of the virus emerging from the UK.
Following the meeting a number of recommendations are going to Cabinet today including the closure of the hospitality sector from mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, along with hairdressers, barbers, beauticians, cinemas and galleries.
Non-essential retail will be allowed to remain open.
Sources said there will be supports for those businesses that will have to close, but it is unclear whether these will be new schemes or the re-introduction of existing supports.
The ban on inter-county travel will begin once again on December 27th. There will however be exemptions for returning to work and allowing people who may have travelled for Christmas to return to their own county after that date if necessary.
The details on when restrictions on household visits will tighten will be debated at Cabinet this morning and an announcement is expected later today.