The Government is examining the introduction of specific supports for the hospitality sector.

Senior ministers will discuss the issue tomorrow evening at a meeting of the Cabinet Sub Committee on Economic Recovery.

They will also consider delaying the planned cuts to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme which are due to kick in from December first.

Meanwhile, the National Public Health Emergency Team will meet again on Thursday to assess the current spread of the virus amid continued concern about high case numbers and pressure on hospitals.

Sources indicated that it will be too soon to evaluate the impact of the most recent restrictions.

The strengthened advice to work from home along with a midnight curfew for nightlife, came into effect last Friday.

However further measures are not being ruled out. Members will be closely scrutinising the most up to date information available.

There is a view in Government that the message to reduce social contacts is having an effect. But it is not clear whether this will be sufficient to ease the pressure on the health system.

This evening the Restaurants Association of Ireland said it has engaged with the highest levels of government over the past 48 hours to retain the EWSS scheme at the current level and to reintroduce the CRSS (Covid Recovery Support Scheme).

The RAI said these measures are necessary "due to level of contraction in hospitality as an outcome of restrictions and messaging around reducing social contacts".

It said December is a critical month for the sector in terms of cash flow for first three months of 2022.

Future lockdowns 'not inevitable' - Coveney

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, has said future lockdowns are not inevitable but a national effort is required to slow the spread of the virus.

Speaking on RTÉ's The Week In Politics, Mr Coveney said the view in Government is very similar to that of the Chief Medical Officer - to focus on what they know works and what they are asking people to do.

"To limit their social contacts, to make sure that rooms are ventilated, to wear masks when people are in crowds indoors and outdoors, to work from home when you can.

"These are messages that people have heard many times and they understand, because they work.

"So it is possible to avoid the introduction of more restrictions, but we will have to watch the numbers very closely because our hospital system is under enormous pressure now.

Minister Coveney said a 'national effort' was needed to stem the Covid surge

"Over 640 people are in hospital, over 120 of those are in ICU, and that is putting our health system under immense pressure, so we do have to watch that closely.

"We have to protect it, and we will as a Government.

"Future lockdowns are not inevitable, but this requires a national effort to do what we know works to slow down, at least, the spread of this virus."

Mr Coveney said nobody wants to introduce restrictions again, but they will do so if it makes sense from a public health perspective and to protect society and the health system.

He said they would do it on the back of public health advice to ensure the interventions "are accurate and have the maximum effect possible".

A mural in Harold's Cross, Dublin, depicting a nurse in PPE

He said they have spent "about €8 billion on PUP payments so far" during the pandemic, and they would continue to support vulnerable sectors that are restricted.

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said the Government had hardly moved the dial when it comes to hospital capacity, and he said this would save lives and reduce the pressure on society.

He said that on 18 November 2020, the EU gave the go ahead for antigen testing but he said the Government is only talking about rolling antigen testing out.

He said it was incredible that the Government was so slow in rolling out this tool.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said there was a narrow window of opportunity to flatten the curve.

She said the Government needed to take action when it comes to boosters, she said we have been slow in rolling out boosters.

She said for most of the past week it was impossible to book a PCR test in any part of the country. She said the Government's public health messaging was entirely inadequate.

Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly said the Government needed to give clear messaging, the public was way ahead of the Government when it comes to antigen testing.

Mr Coveney said there is "a lot of antigen testing going on" and there has been for months, and the important thing is to make sure everyone understands how and when to use them.

He said it is a "really useful tool" for those who are asymptomatic, but they need to be careful that it does not replace PCR testing for those who are symptomatic.

He said it would be up to the Minister for Health to bring forward something on antigen test subsidies and if he thinks it is beneficial to do that, then they will see it come before Cabinet.

"I can certainly understand the arguments why you don't want antigen testing to be cost prohibitive for people, and if it makes sense to use antigen testing we should be encouraging that," Mr Coveney said.

"But we have to be careful that people don't replace PCR testing with antigen testing in their own mind, because I think that could be counter-productive."

He said he "strongly expects" that antigen tests will be made more affordable and a decision on that will hopefully be made on Tuesday.

Mr Coveney said they are acting with urgency in terms of booster rollout, and the vaccination programme has been an "extraordinary success".

He said they currently have the capacity to roll out about 230,000 boosters a week, which will soon rise to 270,000 and "probably beyond that".

"I think the message for the public on boosters needs to be - make sure you turn up when you get a date, make sure you look for your booster when you're eligible," he said.

"Because in many ways, boosters offer significantly more protection than, for example, the second dose after people received it, we know that.

"Boosters can be a hugely important shield that will prevent further restrictions having to be introduced."

Mr Coveney said "well over half a million people" currently have boosters and they know that about two and a half million people are eligible to get boosters under NIAC's recommendation so far.