The Taoiseach has said this is the fourth surge of Covid infections experienced by the country as the Government announced updated restrictions.
In a televised address at Government Buildings, Micheál Martin said this surge is different due to the vaccination programme, which enables the country to remain open.
He said it is still estimated that for every four detected Covid cases, there may be as many as another six asymptomatic undetected cases in the community. He said clearly this is too high.
Mr Martin said that hospitals and GPs are seeing "huge increases with the number of people presenting with non-Covid problems".
If the number of Covid infections continues to grow at the current rate, no health system would be able to cope, he said.
The Taoiseach said that in the six weeks to mid-November in 2019, the number of children admitted to hospital was below 12,000.
This compared to the same six week period this year, when more than 20,000 children were cared for in our hospitals.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin says that the current surge of Covid-19 cases is a dramatic reminder of what the virus can do, and action must be taken now. He says that the vaccination and booster programme remains at the core of the response to the disease | https://t.co/UlIYKhvibc pic.twitter.com/L1Olq62Oee— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 16, 2021
Mr Martin said the range of measures being introduced "represent an appropriate response to the situation we find ourselves in".
He said the vaccination and booster programmes remain at the core of the Government's response to Covid-19.
It will now roll out boosters to everyone with an underlying condition and everyone over the age of 50.
He said they have also agreed to pause the phased return to the workplace and the advice is now to work from home unless it is absolutely necessary to attend in person.
Work from home advice for employees will take effect from Friday.
Taoiseach says a phased and cautious return to the workplace has been paused. He says the requirement for Covid passes based on vaccination or recovery will now be put on a statutory basis for cinemas and theatres | https://t.co/FPGVCiljLB pic.twitter.com/Q4RgXIQGDq— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 16, 2021
Earlier, the Cabinet agreed that midnight will be the new closing time for bars, restaurants and nightclubs from this Thursday.
Normal opening hours returned on 22 October bringing an end to an 11.30pm closing time, but this has now been reversed.
The Taoiseach said they want hospitality to remain open and they will continue to work with the sector to ensure the current rules around Covid passes and other protections are being properly observed.
He also said the requirement for Covid passes based on vaccination or recovery will now be put on a statutory basis for cinemas and theatres.
Micheál Martin said regardless of vaccination status, all household close contacts of a confirmed Covid case should now restrict movement for five days, pending completion of a recommended antigen test.
The Government has clarified this evening that the 'stay-at-home' rule will apply to teachers.
Labour leader Alan Kelly told RTÉ News earlier that Taoiseach Micheál Martin confirmed to him earlier that teachers would be exempt from this measure.
Taoiseach @MichealMartinTD says he's "very annoyed" with Labour leader @alankelly over his contention that the Taoiseach said teachers were exempt from 5-day rule. Micheal Martin asserted there are no exemptions - and he's called the Labour leader about his statement @rtenews— Paul Cunningham (@RTENewsPaulC) November 16, 2021
However, the Government tonight clarified that teachers are not exempt from the five-day rule.
The Taoiseach said he knows the picture emerging across Europe and the increasing numbers here over the last week are "a cause of deep concern" and that no one wants to go back to a world of widespread restrictions.
He said it is "our collective effort, in adhering to the public health measures, that will keep our society and our economy open, that will sustain and maintain our progress and will keep us healthy and safe".
Senior Government figures are privately indicating that they fear further restrictions may be needed in the weeks ahead.
Speaking on his way into today's Cabinet meeting, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the latest modelling on hospitalisations and ICU admissions is "very stark".
The Government was last night presented with the prospect that rising Covid-19 numbers could mean that up to 500 people would require ICU care next month.
The best case scenario projected between 200 to 220 people needing ICU beds, with 1,100 to 1,200 requiring hospital care at a point next month.
The revised modelling says there is the potential for a large wave of infection, still peaking in late November, or early December, but higher than previous models due to waning immunity from vaccination.
While the peak could be at the end of December, large case numbers would last well into February.