TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has suggested that Level 5 lockdown may effectively be here to stay until Easter, despite government setting an initial deadline of March 5 to ease restrictions.
He said that "high levels" of lockdown measures would have to remain in place because the Government is taking a "cautious and conservative" approach towards the coronavirus crisis, in spite of the vaccine roll out.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said: "Schools are the priority and construction - a phased return to construction, particularly house-building - because we have a social crisis in terms of the availability of housing for people across all strata of society.
"And, certainly, we are looking at a continuation of high levels of restrictions to the Easter period. That remains to be determined by Government; there will be further discussions."
He stressed that hospitalisation numbers would have to be dramatically reduced before the country could think about easing lockdown.
"We have to get those numbers down, we have to relieve those pressures, not just in the short term but for a sustained period, and into the long term we don’t want that situation happening again in our hospitals," he said.
Martin went on to say that restrictions on non-essential travel will remain in place for the rest of 2021.
"The European Centre for disease control is doing a more comprehensive global look at this and we'll have a report on Monday. We will take that advice in relation to countries where mandatory quarantine and will apply from here onwards," he added.
When asked if travel restrictions will remain in place due to growing concerns about the different variants of Covid-19 and their potential to "undermine the vaccination programme," Martin said: "Certainly, in terms of 2021".
Fines of up to €2,000 are also being introduced for anyone found to be in breach of these restrictions.