LEO VARADKAR has hinted that lockdown restrictions could remain in place in Ireland until Easter.
The Tánaiste warned that it might take over three months before a sizeable proportion of general public can avail of the Covid-19 vaccine, and that lockdown measures may have to remain in place until then.
While Mr Varadkar admitted that he wants this lockdown to be the country's last, he stressed that the coming weeks could be the "darkest" it's ever been for hospitals and the HSE.
"Even if numbers are falling for two or three weeks, in two or three weeks time the hospitals are still going to be in quite a bad place," Varadkar said.
"It's only then we're going to start seeing the numbers of people who passed away showing up in the figures and by then we won't have the healthcare workers and people in nursing homes vaccinated.
"And I think there's a very strong case to say to people even though it's very hard medicine, let's stick with this.
"Let's make this the last lockdown if possible."
The former Taoiseach admitted that Ireland's vaccination programme experienced "a little bit of a slow start," but stressed that it was now in full swing.
He said last week's target of vaccinating 35,000 was exceeded and this week that number will be increased to 40,000.