The Department of Social Protection said it issued weekly payments to 57,603 people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment this week, an increase of 2,267 on last week.

These figures are in addition to the 164,626 people who were on the Live Register at the end of November.

Today's figures show that the total cost of payments issued under the PUP this week passed the €9 billion level.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys recently announced that the PUP is open to new entrants who lose their jobs due to the current Covid restrictions.

Since Tuesday December 7, PUP has reopened for workers who have been impacted by the latest restrictions and measures to slow down the spread of the Covid virus.

There are five weekly rates of PUP payable for these workers who lose their job as a result of the latest restrictions.

The rate of payment is determined by the person's weekly earnings and the rates are €350, €300, €250, €203 and €150.

The minister said that to align PUP with the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme and to better reflect the earnings of part-time workers, a new rate of €150 will be payable to those who previously earned less than €151.50 per week.

She also reminded people today that the Enhanced Illness Benefit (EIB) - paid at the €350 rate - is available to anyone who is diagnosed with Covid-19 or told to self-isolate.

Ms Humphreys said it is extremely important that anyone who is diagnosed with Covid-19, or is designated as a close contact, stays at home and does not attend work.

In the past week, 3,501 people have applied for the Enhanced Illness Benefit. The overall number now stands at 8,237.

Minister Humphreys said she was conscious that this Christmas would once again be extremely difficult for people - particularly for those who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19.

"I'm thinking especially about workers in the night-time economy and hospitality, as well as those in the entertainment industry who have been severely impacted. That's why I felt it was so important to re-open the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, so that we can continue to support our workers who have been affected," she added.