The Taoiseach has confirmed level five restrictions will continue until at least March 5th.
Micheál Martin was speaking ahead of a Cabinet meeting, where ministers are due to sign off on an extension of lockdown and new restrictions around travel.
The measures will include a mandatory quarantine for anyone arriving into the country without a negative PCR test, as well as for anyone arriving from Brazil or South Africa.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Martin said it’s likely there will still be a significant number of people with COVID-19 in hospital by the end of February, even with the strict lockdown.
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He said: “That’s the real, clear motivating factor in terms of the measures we’re going to take today, in terms of domestically continuing on the restrictions and seriously restricting travel as well.
“We’re saying to people ‘stay at home’ - that will yield the best results, in the most rapid time.”
Case numbers 'going in the right direction'
The Taoiseach said travel is down to very low levels in the last few weeks, but it needs to be ‘clamped down’ further.
He stressed they’re not ruling out measures such as mandatory quarantine, but he believes the measures being introduced today will be a ‘deterrent’ to travel.
Mr Martin stressed that case numbers are going in the right direction and close contacts are ‘way down’ - indicating that people are following the guidelines, and that will drive down community transmission.
However, he said the seemingly more transmissible UK strain is becoming the dominant variant of coronavirus here.
He said: “That speaks to the need to adhere as strictly as we possibly can, each of us individually and collectively, to the guidelines.
“Those working on the frontline have been truly heroic over the last month - but the hospital numbers are too high, and the number of people in intensive care is too high.
"Even at the end of February, in my view, they’ll still be too high. That’s why we’re extending and continuing with the restrictions.”
He said officials and the Education Minister are still in discussions about whether schools can reopen soon.
A full announcement on the restrictions is expected this afternoon following the Cabinet meeting, and the Taoiseach will speak to The Hard Shoulder this evening about the new measures.