Back in June, we were promised that "summer is not lost" as the reopening of the country was accelerated.

Now the imperative is to save Christmas, but in a way that does not jeopardise all the recent efforts in pushing back the virus.

Some in the Dáil are urging caution. But for other politicians, caution must be tempered with hope and the desire for families and friends to reunite after months apart. 

And it is a critical period for retail and hospitality businesses eager to recoup some of this year's enforced losses. 

Intense discussions are under way in Government on how to manage this reopening. The Taoiseach has repeatedly insisted that Level 3 is the goal for December, however, he added this week that may be moderated for some sectors. 

Exactly what that means is unclear although he has said that data is being analysed sector by sector to inform the approach for exiting Level 5.

The Government must weigh up the balance to be struck between facilitating some kind of Christmas versus the risk of accelerating the inevitable lockdown to follow. 

The problem is that Christmas under Level 3 does not remotely resemble the bumper festive season envisaged by many.

Pubs that do not serve food might not be allowed to open and restaurants would still have tight restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining - something the industry has warned might not make reopening viable. 

Look at the example across the border where restaurants baulked at the suggestion of exiting lockdown to just serve food but not alcohol. Not a runner according to many. 

And under Level 3, people are required to stay in their own county. That is not conducive to the usual exodus from cities as people travel to gather with their families. 

On international travel, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar put a dampener on the hopes of many planning to return to Ireland from abroad when he advised against booking flights. Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan went further calling it "non-essential travel". 

There was better news on religious services as the Taoiseach told RTÉ's News at One yesterday he expects places of worship would be open on Christmas Day. 

So how will the Government evaluate the pace of the unlocking? Two key criteria dominate - the reproductive number must be below one (or 0.5 according to the National Public Health Emergency Team) and cases must be falling consistently.

NPHET and the Cabinet sub-committee on Health are monitoring the situation. Also, it's understood the Department of the Taoiseach is examining footfall, traffic, behaviour and the impact of changes to restrictions.

Overall, sources say the pace will be dictated by behaviour. The carrot is to work harder now to have a better Christmas and to postpone the inevitable clampdown.

So far, the Government has been steadfastly holding the line that there will be no easing until December first as planned. That's despite the fact that the overall Covid picture has improved much faster than anticipated.

And while there is external pressure from interest groups, there is also internal pressure from within the Government parties. 

Several Fianna Fáil TDs have called for consideration to be given to introducing some element of Level 2 restrictions in December. This was aired at the parliamentary party meeting by Cormac Devlin, James Lawless, Jim O'Callaghan and others. 

The Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has also publicly floated the possibility of Level 2 for Christmas along with regional variations. 

Fine Gael TDs have called for a debate in the House on how to reopen. This will happen next Thursday when the report of the Covid Committee will be considered.

The Social Democrats have urged caution around Christmas with co-leader Róisín Shortall saying it is important to avoid short-term thinking and that the priority is to push down the virus numbers.

The Labour leader Alan Kelly has pushed for an indication on when the plan might be announced.

And others have pointed to the Government's failure to implement a regime that would facilitate travel. Independent TD Michael McNamara has said that ten months into the pandemic, there is still inadequate testing despite the State’s responsibility to facilitate normal life.

And that is where the Government has not stepped up to the plate, its critics say.

They argue that if the plan is as unsophisticated as simply lurching in and out of lockdowns, surely a better system should be in place by now.