The Government will meet on Friday to decide on easing Covid-19 restrictions and the Taoiseach said it will give clarity to the public at that point.

The Tánaiste said he would like to see restrictions eased quickly over the next few weeks.

Today, the Department of Health was notified of 6,843 additional PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19, as well as 5,295 positive antigen tests registered through the HSE portal.

The number of people in ICU is 90, down three on the same time yesterday. There are now 910 people in hospital with the virus, a reduction of 69.

Since last Wednesday, 52 deaths have been newly notified in Ireland. It brings the total number of deaths in the Republic to 6,087.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet this morning, Micheál Martin said the Government had to be mindful of disease levels and the prospect of future variants but added "we can be optimistic about the medium term".

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he would love to see all restrictions gone by March, but it is too early to know what the situation will be then.

However, he said the current outlook is encouraging and he would like to see the measures lifted to the fullest extent possible as quickly as possible.

But that has to be balanced against making sure we do not squander the hard won gains made, he added.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he would like to see coronavirus restrictions eased quickly over the next few weeks.

On RTÉ's Six One, he said they are seeing that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants, and combined with the immunity that has built up due to vaccines and prior infection, the impact on hospitals and ICUs is not as was feared.

The Tánaiste said this has given the Government the confidence to ease restrictions.

Mr Varadkar said the emergency legislation to require people to wear masks, allowing for the closure of businesses and the requirement for Covid passes, ends on 31 March. He said the Government can renew it but he would prefer that it not be renewed and that almost all legal restrictions would be ended by then if not before.

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Meanwhile, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and Transport said he believes restrictions will start to lift towards the end of next week.

Eamon Ryan said he did not believe the Government will decide to immediately remove some restrictions today and it is more likely that people will be given advance notice about any changes on Friday.

The Green Party leader cautioned that nothing is a certainty with Covid-19 because it can keep changing.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said the position the country is in at the moment is a lot better than it looked a number of weeks ago, with ICU numbers holding steady and health consequences less severe for the majority of people than in previous variants.

Mr Ryan said that he would like some of the social life to return to society because it is important for health and welfare.

It makes sense that we start bringing back our sporting and artistic events, he added, particularly outdoor events.

Minister Ryan said the return to the office should also happen fairly quickly and that many people, particularly younger people, had missed out on the benefits of working in an office environment.

He said the Omicron variant is following the expected projection and the vaccination and booster programmes have worked and urged anyone that has not yet had a vaccine or booster to do so.

Health advice will be sought before any changes are made to the wearing of masks, he said, adding that he did not believe it needed to be immediately withdrawn and it has not been as big an imposition as other restrictions.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said the Government does not want to leave restrictions in place "a moment longer" than required.

Mr Harris added that by any metric the signs in relation to Omicron are encouraging and said he believes the country can hope that we are moving to a new phase of the pandemic.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said he does not see the point in continuing with the 8pm closing time for the hospitality sector for another week.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said if the Chief Medical Officer sends a letter tomorrow, he sees no reason why the Cabinet could not have a meeting tomorrow evening.

"I just don't see the point in letting those who have lost so much over such a long period of time lose out again for another week," he said.

"We don't know where we're going - hopefully it's very good as regards Omicron - but this virus has surprised us so often. Later on in the year there could be another surprise if there's another variant.

"So a week is actually very important, so what's the point in losing it?"

Bar, restaurant owners say time needed to accommodate changes

Meanwhile, a number of people involved in the hospitality sector have said any changes to the current restrictions are welcome, but businesses need time to accommodate those changes.

Under the measures currently in place, all restaurants, bars and cafes, excluding take away or delivery services must close at 8pm. This also applies to hotel restaurants and bars, except for overnight residents.

The manager of the Cornstore and Coqbull restaurants in Cork and Limerick said that what the industry needs is a plan going forward to ensure they do not end up opening and closing again.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mike Ryan said they do not have full capacity to open seven days a week and run full shifts at the moment.

"Lots of people have left the industry, or a lot of people that were pre-pandemic in the industry were from other countries who've gone home because there hasn't been a demand, there hasn't been consistency and continuity of work," he said.

Eamon Irish, who owns Irish's Bar in Knocktopher, Co Kilkenny, said the Christmas period was "a disaster" and 8pm was a "crazy hour" to try and get people home.

He said they reopened last August and there are still a lot of customers that he has not yet seen return.

"A lot of people got used to staying at home and it's going to take a big shift to try and get them back into the pubs again," he said.

The Executive Director of the Lime Tree Theatre and Belltable said the theatre needs a long lead in time and a change in restrictions would not make much difference over the couple of months.

Louise Donlon said bookings are currently at a standstill, even for the curfew shows, because people are cautious for health reasons and "out of the habit" of attending performances.

She added that there is a lot of work to be done to convince people to come back to the venue and to feel comfortable about attending.

Wave 5 of Covid for Ireland

Ireland is officially in Wave 5 of Covid-19, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

Wave 5 is deemed to have started in the week beginning 19 December. This is the point in time designated based on when the Omicron variant of concern was estimated to have become dominant and when the incidence of Covid-19 markedly increased.

So far during Wave 5, there have been 284,095 Covid-19 cases up to 15 January. There have been 67 deaths reported. The case fatality ratio last week stood at 0.02%.

Additional reporting Samantha Libreri