Large-scale international travel may not return to Ireland until next year, according to the Tánaiste.
Leo Varadkar was speaking after the Government extended Level Five restrictions untilMarch 5th at the earliest.
Meanwhile, restrictions on international travel are being strengthened – with anyone who arrives in Ireland without a negative COVID-19 test facing mandatory two-week quarantine in a hotel.
Passengers from Brazil and South Africa face the same restrictions.
The Government has also suspended visa-free short-term travel from South America and South Africa.
Meanwhile, Gardaí will step up patrols near ports and airports, with anyone found attempting to leave the country on holiday facing increased fines.
Opposition parties have labelled the travel measures ‘half-baked’ and called for Ireland to follow the zero-COVID lead of countries like New Zealand.
Speaking last night however, Mr Varadkar said that approach could lead to strict travel restrictions for a year or longer.
“We would have to know that the vaccinations confer herd immunity and we would have to probably get through another winter, another Christmas,” he said.
“Maybe it will come to that anyway. Maybe it will be the cases that international travel is not possible this summer and not possible this Christmas.
“I certainly don’t want to close off that possibility today – but maybe we will have to.”
Mr Varadkar said there is no guarantee the Irish abroad will be able to return home next Christmas.
“Would you take the risk around Christmas of allowing, at that point, huge numbers of people [into the country],” he asked. “I think you probably wouldn’t.
“You can’t assume that, because everyone is vaccinated, that that necessarily would confer herd immunity – we don’t know that yet.
“What you would do is, I think, you would let very small amounts of international travel in. I don’t think you would say, ‘everyone come home for Christmas now.’”
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said the new quarantine measures do not go far enough.
“We should learn from countries that have been successful,” she said.
“New Zealand in particular who have ben operating a very strict mandatory quarantine system since early last year.
“The reward for doing that, if you control your borders, is you can open up your internal economy – your schools, your social life – and get back to some form of normality.”
Last night health officials announced 928 new COVID-19 cases – the lowest daily figure since Christmas Eve.
A further 90 virus-related deaths were announced taking the country’s death toll above 3,000.
Six of the new cases have been linked to the South African variant of the virus.