Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that he has signed the regulation authorising the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Ireland.

"Delighted to report that I've just signed the regulation authorising the use of the Pfizer vaccine in Ireland," Mr Donnelly said in a tweet this evening.

The first delivery of almost 10,000 doses of the vaccine will arrive here on St Stephen's Day, with a further 31,000 due in the following days, with the first vaccinations to be administered on 30 December.

Mr Donnelly tweeted an image of the signed statutory instruments and he said "in what's been such a tough year for so many, this is really great to see."

It comes as the Department of Health was today notified of 922 new cases of Covid-19, as well as eight further deaths linked to the disease.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has said there are no "encouraging signs" among the key indicators of the virus here.

There have now been a total of 2,192 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland, and a total of 83,073 confirmed cases.

438 of the cases reported today are men, with 477 women. More than two thirds of cases involve people under the age of 45.

337 of the cases are in Dublin, with 73 in Cork, 70 in Limerick, 56 in Wexford, and 43 in Galway. The remaining 343 cases are spread across all other counties. 

As of this morning there were 255 people being treated in hospitals, with 22 of those in intensive care units.

The 14-day incidence rate of Covid-19 per 100,000 people is 166 - up from 153 yesterday.

Donegal (324.1), Wexford (291.9) and Louth (291.0) have the highest rates in the country. The lowest rates were recorded in Leitrim (43.7) and Clare (48).

The Chief Medical Officer has said that unfortunately none of the indicators of the disease are showing encouraging signs.

"Ireland now has the fastest growing incidence rate in the European Union," Dr Tony Holohan has said.

He also said that "the best present" people can give their loved ones this Christmas is to strictly adhere to the public health advice.

"Make your Christmas safe, meaningful and memorable for the right reasons. Stay home, stay safe and stay well. Limit contact as much as you can and ensure you and your loved ones have a happy and safe Christmas."

Meanwhile, some businesses have closed from 3pm as further restrictions come into effect.

Restaurants and gastropubs have closed for indoor dining and will be able to offer takeaway and deliveries only.

Hairdressers, nail bars, cinemas, galleries and museums will also have to close.

NPHET recommended the move after becoming concerned at the rapidly escalating number of new cases.

It comes after a senior Cabinet minister said the Government is "likely to stick" to the incoming Level 5 restrictions, despite a call from the National Public Health Emergency Team for non-essential retailers to close.

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Amid warnings over the increase in Covid-19 cases, NPHET said it does not believe the new measures will be sufficient to reduce the numbers far enough.

The team made further recommendations to Government including that non-essential retail should close from St Stephen's Day. 

Initial tests found evidence that the more transmissible UK variant of Covid-19 could have been in Ireland for at least two weeks.

But NPHET said the increase in cases is more likely to be linked to the reopening of hospitality, allowing more people to gather in indoor settings, earlier in the month. 

The chair of NPHET's Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, said "we are in a surge" and the virus is spreading rapidly.

Professor Philip Nolan said he does not think the measures being introduced from today will be enough to bring the virus under control and this time it is coming "really fast and really hard" and the next few days will determine what happens in January. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he urged people to keep numbers to a minimum and not to spend too much time together as it is long gatherings in indoor settings where control of the virus is lost.

Prof Nolan said if people have been out and about a great deal recently they should stay away from loved ones who may be vulnerable.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Government had made significant decisions on the virus and introducing restrictions.

Speaking on the same programme, he said the Government felt that non-essential retail was not affecting the spread of the virus, but will consider NPHET's advice.

Mr Coveney said he did not think it was a mistake to relax restrictions at the start of December and those decisions were make along with advice from NPHET.

He said no one expected to make the decisions that they made this week, but the evidence and data on the virus is changing all the time. 

Additional reporting Orla O'Donnell, Fergal O'Brien