A gulf has emerged between the Government and the State's public health advisers who have called for pubs and restaurants to only offer takeaway and delivery services over Christmas.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) also advised Ministers that either rules on household visits can be relaxed over the festive period or the hospitality sector could start to reopen, but both should not take place at once.
In a letter to the Government, Nphet said if restaurants and other hospitality providers were allowed to reopen for Christmas then visits to people’s homes should be limited to one other household only.
According to The Irish Times, the letter said the rules on visiting homes could be relaxed further if restaurants and gastropubs remained closed for the festive period except for takeaways.
The letter also stated that people should stay inside county boundaries as part of the trade-off for any opening up of the hospitality sector, although Nphet said this could be relaxed closer to Christmas.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan briefed the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on Wednesday night following a lengthy Nphet meeting, while Mr Donnelly was in contact with senior Government figures on Thursday morning.
The Government has signalled that current restrictions will be eased next week, allowing non-essential retail and some services to reopen.
It is also expected that restaurants and pubs serving food will be allowed open later in the month.
The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, said it is likely that household visits will be permitted for a two-week period around Christmas, allowing people to visit their families.
A meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 took place on Thursday afternoon, where senior members of the Government, senior Nphet members and HSE chiefs were due to finalise the plans which will be put to the Cabinet on Friday.