The Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he wants Ireland to exit Level 5 of Covid-19 restrictions on December 1st.
This Christmas, however, will be a very different one from other ones in that large groups of people could not congregate in pubs or other settings, he said.
“That will pose challenges for us. It will not be a normal Christmas but it can still be a safe and enjoyable Christmas if we mind ourselves and if we mind others,” he said in an interview with Virgin Media News on Friday evening.
He said the Government would decide on what level of restricitons would apply after December 1st, taking into account the advice it receives from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
A further eight deaths and 330 new cases of Covid-19 were reported by the Nphet on Friday.
This brings to 2,018 the total number of deaths in the State from the virus. There are now a total of 69,802 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the Republic.
As of 2pm on Friday 283 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, of which 33 were in intensive care units. There have been 13 additional hospitalisations in the past 24 hours.
Of the latest confirmed cases, 99 are in Dublin, 28 in Cork, 26 in Louth, 25 in Meath, 21 in Donegal and the remaining 131 cases are spread across 20 other counties.
One-hundred-and-seventy-one of the cases are among men while 155 are among women. Sixty-four per cent of the cases were recorded in under 45s while the median age is 37.
The Taoiseach said the lapse in the past week - where infection numbers crept up again - was worrying and might have been stoked by news around a new vaccine as well as restriction fatigue being experienced by the public.
He would not specify the measures being envisaged for coming weeks saying they would all be subject to the situation prevailing on December 1st.
“We need a safe Christmas, a time for family and friends and a spiritual time,” he said, pointing out there had been dialogue with church leader around services.
“We will not be gathering in the same crowds as previous Christmases,” he stressed.
He said most of the emphasis in coming weeks would be on guidance and a strong communications campaign to remind people of their responsibilities.
Asked about the easing of travel restrictions, he said: “We would like to see some relaxation of 5km and county borders. We want to see the status of the virus at the end of the month”.
On the issue of people who wish to fly home for Christmas he said that Ireland was now subject to the EU traffic light system. The Government will issue guidance at the end of the month but “people have to make judgement calls on the nature of travel”, he pointed out.
Meanwhile the percentage of healthcare workers contracting Covid-19 in the second wave of the virus is considerably lower than in the first wave, a new report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) on the profile of Covid-19 cases in healthcare workers suggests.
In late March and early April, healthcare workers made up around 40 per cent of positive Covid-19 cases, with the percentage of total cases peaking in May, when it hit almost 45 per cent.
However, on the week ending November 14th, healthcare workers made up approximately 15 per cent of total cases, though this figure is increasing, having been as low as 5 per cent in late October.
Between August 2nd and November 14th, there were 41,817 Covid-19 cases, of which 2,826 were found in healthcare workers, representing 6.8 per cent of all cases across the almost four-month period.
During that period, 65 healthcare works were hospitalised as a result of Covid-19, four of whom were admitted to ICU.
The median age of confirmed Covid-19 cases in healthcare workers was 39 years, and 78 per cent of positive cases were found in females, which is attributed to some specialities, such as nursing, being female dominated.
Healthcare assistants and nurses made up almost half of all Covid-19 infections in healthcare workers between August and November, the report adds.
Adherence to restrictions ‘slips’
The chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Thursday that recent progress in reducing the spread of the virus had stalled, as people have "slipped" in adhering to lockdown restrictions over the last week.
The previous sharp decline in numbers of new cases in the early weeks of Level 5 restrictions had plateaued, meaning the country had effectively “lost a week,” Dr Holohan said.
There were concerns that people were socialising more as the six-week lockdown period wore on, and others were unnecessarily working from the office.
Officials expressed concern that recent positive news over the development of an effective vaccine for 2021 had led to people “taking the foot off the gas,” Dr Holohan said.
Over the past seven days the total number of Covid-19 tests carried out was 78,058 of which 3.5 per cent were positive.
Meanwhile, 12 further coronavirus-related deaths were also reported by the North's Department of Health on Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 913. The North's First Minister Arlene Foster has defended the decision to introduce tough new lockdown measures to limit the spread of coronavirus only a week after less stringent measures were blocked by her party.
A further 369 people were confirmed to have the virus, a drop on the 487 new confirmed cases reported on Thursday.
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin meanwhile met Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on Friday afternoon to discuss concerns about street drinking in Dublin and Cork last weekend, in breach of Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions.
The meeting was also attended by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
After the meeting Mr Martin said there needed to be a “push” over the next few weeks to bring the numbers down.