Organisations representing firms said if such a decision is taken by Government, additional measures would be required to support businesses.

Chief executive of the employers’ group Ibec Danny McCoy said that given the seriousness of the NPHET recommendation for our economy and society, the Government’s Senior Officials Group must seek, review and publish the evidence that is underpinning these recommendations.

“It is intolerable that after six months we are still receiving both vague and changing criteria to advance such serious restrictions,” he said.

Chambers Ireland said the extent of the recommendation came as a surprise and the Cabinet will have to consider it very carefully.

“Since the levels were introduced we have been asking for clarity about the support measures that would go with each level, so this is now critical,” said chief executive Ian Talbot.

“But if extensive additional restrictions are introduced, an equally extensive subsidy package will have to be introduced urgently.”

The retail sector said it is “extremely concerned” by the development and the impact this will have on retailers at such a critical time of the year.

“Retailers have done everything asked of them since March and any further lockdown will have a very negative impact and many may not recover,” said Duncan Graham, chief executive of Retail Excellence Ireland.

Publicans described the NPHET recommendation as “truly shocking”.

“Pubs only reopened on 21 September after six months shut, so this news will send shockwaves through our membership,” said the Vintners Federation of Ireland.

“There was no expectation the country would go to the highest level, certainly not before ‘moving though the gears’ from Level 2 upwards. What’s the point of the Living with Covid plan if we are allowed lurch so violently to the highest level?

“We need Government to make an early announcement that Level 5 is not an option. There are many counties where the virus is well under control. They must be allowed remain at Level 2.”

ISME said that while it values NPHET’s advice in matters of public health, it is a matter for Government as to how those recommendations are executed.

“In particular, we expect Government to acknowledge the regional infection rates, which remain low in many counties,” said its chief executive Neil McDonnell.

“Ireland is going to have to live with Covid.”

The Restaurants Association of Ireland have described the recommendation by NPHET to move Ireland to level 5 as “surprising, unexplainable and economically unreasonable” considering that so many counties are doing extremely well in the fight against Covid-19.

“The Government must decide if Ireland can live with Covid as outlined in the plan to tackle the virus or will they plunge the country into an economic lockdown as requested by NPHET,” Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland said.

Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, said the introduction of any further restrictions would have implications for exporting firms and would represent ‘quite a blow’ if the decision is followed through.

“Further restrictions would mean increased liquidity issues for business and will slow down the recovery that we had been seeing.

“It would certainly be quite a blow if that’s what the decision ends up being. It’s up to cabinet to make the decision, but it certainly would be very challenging.”

Ms Sinnamon was speaking ahead of Enterprise Ireland’s International Markets Week which is being dominated this year by the twin threats of the pandemic and the looming deadline for a Brexit trade deal at the end of the year.

Retail Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the retail sector, today said any move to close significant swathes of retail as part of new Covid restrictions would have a devastating impact on thousands of businesses and jobs.

In the run up to the key Christmas trading period, Retail Ireland warned that non-grocery trade would move almost exclusively online with the majority of spending leaving the country.

Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon said the news that a widespread retail lockdown is under review is a major shock.

“The economic and social costs would be enormous, thousands of businesses and jobs would be at risk. This must be avoided,” he stated.

Arnold Dillon said that no evidence has been presented that retail settings are a significant cause of Covid transmission.

“In fact, the sector has radically transformed how it operates, with face masks, social distancing and other hygiene measure, to ensure a safe and highly controlled environment for customers and staff,” Mr Dillon said.

He said the country needs to be able to manage the threat of Covid through targeted restrictions, while also sustaining economic activity and jobs.

“The retail sector has clearly demonstrated that this can be done. A rigorous risk assessment, which incorporates economic and social considerations, must be carried out before any new restrictions are introduced,” he added.

Meanwhile, DublinTown – the collective voice of businesses in Dublin city centre – also said it understands that very few grocery workers, transport workers or front line Gardaí fell ill at the height of the pandemic.

It said its members have reported negligible cases amongst retail or hospitality workers since the lifting of restrictions in June.

“If this is correct, clearly something is being done right in these environments, particularly when considering that many are classed as high risk by NPHET,” Dublin Town said.

“If the data suggests otherwise, let’s all study it to ascertain how we can improve and reduce infection,” the business group said.

DublinTown said the country needs to get beyond endless rounds of opening of closures.

“Further lockdowns may require decades to recover for our society and economy and for our collective mental and physical health. Let’s study what we’ve done right and follow it and help society function in this new normal,” it added.