This is according to the latest figures from the Department of Social Protection.

Around 23,000 payments were made between Christmas Eve and 30 December to people who became unemployed in the week before Christmas, as tighter public health restrictions were re-introduced.

The new restrictions resulted in the closure of many businesses.

This week’s payments amount to just over €99m, bringing the total cost of the PUP scheme since its introduction last March to over €5 billion.

On 22 December, 277,671 people received the PUP, which was a double payment, as no further payment was due until today because of the Christmas break.

However, special arrangements were made to accommodate those who might lose their jobs over Christmas amid tighter restrictions, to ensure they would not be left in financial hardship.

Between 18-24 December, the Department said it has processed around 23,000 PUP applications from workers laid off between those dates, with those claimants receiving their first payment over the Christmas period.

The Department said that eligible claimants made unemployed between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve will receive their PUP payment today.

The PUP jobless figures do not include 194,058 people reported on the Live Register at the end of November.

The sectors with the highest number of people receiving the PUP are Accommodation and Food Service Activities (97,798), Wholesale and Retail Trade (46,853) and Other Sectors including hairdressing and beauty salons (30,221).

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys has acknowledged that the Christmas period had been really difficult for people who lost their employment due to the move to Level 5 restrictions.

“As anticipated we have seen a significant increase in the number of people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment since 22 December,” the Minister said.

“Every county has seen the number of people applying for PUP increase over the past two weeks and, similarly, there has been an increase in every sector applying for the payment over this period.”

Minister Humphreys described the PUP as an important financial lifeline for hundreds of thousands of workers since its introduction in March.

She reiterated the Government’s plea for everyone to make every effort possible to suppress the virus in the difficult period ahead.

The Department of Social Protection has also issued a sombre warning about an anticipated rise in numbers claiming the Covid-19 Illness Benefit.

“It is expected that these numbers will increase substantially in the coming days and weeks as the number of people contracting the virus soars,” the Department said.

Today’s figures indicate that since March, a cumulative total of 98,009 people aged under 66 have been medically certified to receive the Covid-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit, with 1,661 people receiving it as of today.