Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has advised businesses that are closed at present to plan to remain closed for the first quarter of this year.
The overriding objective for the Government was to protect public health and education, he told RTÉ Radio’s News at One. When it was possible, restrictions on businesses would be eased as they were closed, with sectors like construction returning first, and moving down the list to non essential retail.
Mr Varadkar said he knew businesses wanted certainty, which he could not offer, so the best thing for them to do was to plan “that this will be a three month period”.
There were three “essential parameters” that would have to be considered before restrictions would be eased, he said: a reduction in hospital admissions, a fall in community transmission, and the numbers vaccinated.
Business owners: How is your business coping? Share your views
“We are facing into a dark month of January,” he added.
The Tánaiste said it was hard to predict when the peak of the “third wave” would be reached because of the new variant, but he did not anticipate any improvement for a few weeks.
The numbers requiring hospitalisation could go as high as 3,000, but it was hoped that they would not go higher than 1,500, he said.
The country was much better prepared this time with a stockpile of PPE, “hundreds of ventilators”, 6,000 extra staff and increased track and tracing capacity. However, it remained important that people stay at home, he urged.
When asked about private hospitals, Mr Varadkar said he was “absolutely confident” that all the private hospitals would make their facilities available. Their staff would want to make themselves available to the country, he said.
The Government had not received “specific” advice on the reopening of schools for sixth year students, Mr Varadkar said. The Government wanted the Leaving Cert to go ahead, and that could become a real difficulty if students did not get practical education.