The country is facing into its longest lockdown yet, with more months of restrictions as the health service struggles to cope with thousands of Covid-19 cases at the same time as it races to vaccinate millions of people.
he Government is only expected to allow schools and the construction sector to reopen before March and even this is dependent on the number of new cases and the situation in hospitals.
A senior government source admitted last night it is "50-50" on whether there will be an easing of restrictions on these two sectors next month.
The hospitality sector is now expected to remain closed until after Easter, with the Government privately warning it could be the summer before bars, restaurants and hotels are able to reopen in any way - while any form of international tourism from overseas this year is being ruled out.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar warned in a private meeting with hospitality industry representatives last Friday the "virus keeps ripping up our plans" and the Government was unable to give any clear timeline for reopening to the sector.
But following the meeting, some industry figures believe it could be well into the autumn before venues such as wet pubs open their doors again. "This will be a very long lockdown," said a government source yesterday. "I doubt hospitality will open before summer."
The Cabinet will decide in two weeks' time if it is safe for schools to fully reopen to all students and if all construction workers can return to sites across the country from next month.
But senior government figures say decisions on these will depend on three criteria: reducing case numbers significantly to low levels; cutting the numbers in ICU - which currently are nearly 200 patients - to around 50 at any one time; and vaccinating as many of the 700,000 of the most vulnerable and frontline healthcare workers as possible.
There has been a marked change in the Government's approach to the virus - which one senior figure characterised as "hope for the best, plan for the worst" - after the disastrous reopening of the hospitality sector and easing of travel restrictions before Christmas.
These sent case numbers soaring to unprecedented levels and left hospitals at breaking point.
There were 60 additional deaths from Covid confirmed last night, with another 3,231 more cases and 119 additional hospitalisations.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warned that a significant percentage of the population - more than one in 10 in some counties - is either a case or a close contact.
"The improvements in cases is not happening fast enough," he said. "Too many people are still not complying as fully as we need with the advice. There are early indications that we may be levelling off in terms of improvement, but at far, far too high a level of infection."
The scale of the crisis facing the health service is underscored this weekend as the Sunday Independent can reveal that some 250 doctors, nurses and other frontline staff have been told to come to work when they should otherwise be self-isolating.
Data supports anecdotal evidence that the health service is increasingly relying on such derogations in order to staff hospitals during the third wave of the virus.
Under HSE guidelines senior management in hospitals can give essential healthcare staff a "derogation", or exemption, to return to work if "an area cannot be staffed safely or a critical skill set to provide critical or essential services is unavailable".
HSE guidelines for derogations have been updated regularly throughout the pandemic, but critics say this amounts to a watering down of protections afforded to healthcare workers.
Meanwhile Dr Colm Henry, chief clinical officer of the HSE, said yesterday we have another year of restrictions ahead before the number of people vaccinated would be sufficient to protect the general public from Covid.
"The answer, and not everyone likes it but it's the truth ... is that the public in general won't have protection from Covid-19 for at least a year," he told RTÉ's Raidió na Gaeltachta
The first mass vaccination centres began operating in Dublin, Galway and Portlaoise yesterday, administering around 1,800 of the Moderna vaccines, mainly to GPs.
The Department of Health has told TDs in a briefing note that Pfizer's announcement on Friday that its supply will be disrupted this coming week will only have a "modest" impact on the vaccine roll-out in Ireland.
But Health Minister Stephen Donnelly's spokesman admitted yesterday: "At this point we only have confirmed delivery schedules of vaccines to the end of February and after that we are working off estimated delivery schedules."
Expected regulatory approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on January 29 will be a potential game- changer with GPs and pharmacists expected to administer this vaccine en masse."
Mr Donnelly has asked officials to examine if it is legally possible to take delivery of the vaccines in advance of the European Medicines Agency approval so they are ready for immediate roll-out.
Mr Donnelly has defended the controversy over the vaccination of staff in private hospitals and clinics ahead of frontline public healthcare workers. His spokesperson said there is "no distinction" between public or private hospital staff in the roll-out of vaccines to frontline healthcare workers.
"The hospital groups have teams who decide on the allocation of vaccines to hospitals in their areas, based on the risk facing different staff. As hospital groups work with private hospitals in their areas, they include them in considerations," they said.
Last night, in another sign of how stretched the health service has become, the Department of Health announced that placements for over 2.000 student nurses and midwives were being temporarily suspended.
The move will enable the return of qualified nurses and midwives who were previously supervising the students to the frontline. The Department said fourth years on placement would not be impacted by the move which will last at least two weeks.