The Minister for Health has said the COVID-19 outbreak in Ireland is "continuing to deteriorate".
The Cabinet is meeting now to consider reintroducing level five restrictions, which would close non-essential retail and gyms.
They are also considering recommendations over whether people will be required to stay within five kilometres of their home.
It comes as the CEO of the HSE warned that his worst concerns over coronavirus have been realised.
Paul Reid added that positivity rates for tests on some days are reaching as high as 20%, with the R-number of transmission now at 1.8.
Speaking ahead of today's Cabinet meeting, the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly expressed his concern about the impact of the new strain of COVID-19.
He said: "The situation is continuing to deteriorate, we're seeing a very rapid increase and ongoing increase in cases.
"We're also seeing a very rapid increase in hospitalisations."
Health minister Stephen Donnelly speaking a short time ago on the way in to Govt buildings for this afternoon's cabinet meeting. They're quite concerned about the strain the NHS has now come under. pic.twitter.com/TkHNtDx0gq
— Stephen Bourke (@AnBurcach) December 30, 2020
A record 1,546 new cases were confirmed yesterday while 454 patients are currently in hospital today with the virus following 59 further hospitalisations in the last 24 hours.
Meanwhile, in England, a "major incident" has been declared in Essex as the rising number of coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm the health service there.
Minister Donnelly continued: "I and the Government are watching what's happening in the UK very closely.
"What we're seeing now in NHS hospitals is because of this variant which is far more contagious, the UK hospitals are beginning to become overwhelmed."
Our focus needs to be on suppressing the virus, he added, while the roll-out of the vaccination programme "accelerates".
He said: "We need to keep people safe, we need to keep people alive and we need to keep our hospital system and our healthcare system open."
Main image: Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly speaking to the media as he arrives at Government Buildings for this afternoon's emergency Cabinet meeting. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie