This week's National Public Health Emergency Team meeting has been moved to Wednesday, ahead of the Cabinet's decision on easing coronavirus restrictions. NPHET usually meets on a Thursday.

This evening, an additional 252 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, while no further deaths have been reported.

The three coalition party leaders met today to discuss plans to exit Level 5 restrictions.

This will be discussed again at tomorrow morning's Cabinet meeting, but no decision will be taken until a further Cabinet meeting later in the week.

The Taoiseach has said an announcement on the detail of the next stage will be made on Thursday or Friday.

Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green party leader Eamon Ryan are having their usual weekly pre-Cabinet meeting this evening but Covid plans will be discussed.

The expectation is that the country will move into a "Level 3 plus" from midnight on Tuesday, 1 December.

Non-essential retail is expected to reopen along with personal services such as hairdressers and there will be a relaxation of the current ban on household visits - although the precise measure on that has not yet been agreed.

The Taoiseach would not be drawn today on the specifics of the plan but he said the current restrictions had worked and numbers have been driven down.

However, Mr Martin sounded a note of caution in relation to gatherings involving alcohol, saying these had been shown to be linked to the spread of the virus.

His comments come as Government sources said that it is not clear yet whether all pubs will be allowed to reopen, especially those not serving food.

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Hospitality remains a key sticking point; while NPHET is likely to take a cautious approach some in Cabinet believe that restaurants should be opened for indoor dining and that pubs should be allowed to resume some sort of trade.

However, the latest figures make this prospect less likely.

Minister of State Pippa Hackett yesterday said: "There is no point indicating to people we are going to open up for two weeks at Christmas because that is just a free for all."

The CEO of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland said all pubs need to be allowed open for indoor drinking and dining in December, without distinction between the different types of pubs.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Padraig Cribben said that December is an important month for the trade.

He said less than 0.3% of Covid-19 cases had emerged from the pub sector. 

However, speaking on the same programme, a consultant in infectious diseases at St James's Hospital in Dublin said it would not be safe to reopen restaurants next month.

Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh said that despite the best efforts of restaurants to operate safely, she "cannot see it being safe in December". 

She said that a recent US study showed that those who contracted the virus were shown to be twice as likely to have eaten in a restaurant over the previous two weeks. 

She said until levels of transmission are much lower in the community, it will not be safe to dine indoors. 

Dr Ní Cheallagh said that in her view, restaurants could hopefully reopen next spring or summer when a vaccine becomes available.

Several meetings are scheduled to take place this week including the Cabinet tomorrow, NPHET on Wednesday followed by the Cabinet sub-Committee on Covid and a further Cabinet meeting towards the end of the week.

Earlier today, Mr Martin said Level 3 and a ban on household visits along with Level 5 measures had worked and a sense of perspective was needed on that.

He said the objective remained to save lives and to protect public health and livelihoods.

The Taoiseach said Irish people had made sacrifices, but Ireland was one of the lowest countries in Europe for levels of Covid-19.

He also said that NPHET would advise, but the Government would decide on the strategy.

He said he had spoken to the head of the vaccine task force, Professor Brian MacCraith, and he intended to have an initial report together by 11 December.

Mr Martin also said it will take a national effort to distribute the vaccine.

Additional reporting Mary Regan, Orla O'Donnell