The number of people set to receive the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) this week is 352,078 - an increase of just over 2,000 in the last seven days, according to the latest figures from the Department of Social Protection.

This week's payments will cost €104m, bringing the total cost of the PUP scheme since its inception last March to over €4.3bn.

The 352,000 PUP claimants do not include a further 203,172 people reported on the Live Register at the end of October.

Between PUP and Jobseeker's Benefit, a total of 555,250 claimants are totally dependent on the State for income support.

Today's figures also reveal that over the last seven days, 4,912 people closed their PUP claims, with two thirds of those (3,251) doing so because they were returning to work.

The sector with the highest number of PUP recipients is Accommodation and Food Service Activities (102,777), followed by Wholesale and Retail Trade (57,292), and Other Sectors, including hairdressers and beauty salons (31,273).

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said the current figure of over 352,000 PUP recipients represented an increase of over 145,000 since the start of October.

She acknowledged that the past few weeks had not been easy, and that people were tired and wanted life to get back to some normality.

"Later this week, Government hopes to be in a position to consider easing restrictions from early December, which will hopefully allow some people to return to work," Ms Humphreys said.

However, she stressed that in the meantime, as a society everyone must do everything to suppress the virus and significantly reduce the rate of transmission.

"By working together now and in the weeks ahead, we can all play our part in ensuring that families across the country will be able to come together and celebrate this Christmas in a meaningful way," she concluded.

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Today's figures also confirm that since March, 89,399 people have been medically certified to receive the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit.

The number of people currently receiving an Enhanced Illness Benefit payment is 2,296, with an increase in claimants recorded in every county over the last week.

On a geographical basis, claims have been highest in Dublin (24,607), followed by Cork (9,724), Galway (5,464), Kildare (4,320) and Meath (3,609).

The sectors with the greatest number of Enhanced Illness Benefit claims are Wholesale and Retail Trade (19,163), followed by Human Health and Social Work (16,381) and Manufacturing (12,356).