Shops will be allowed to open as late as they want in the weeks leading up to Christmas under plans being considered by the Government.
Major retail outlets have been calling for later opening hours after the lockdown ends to deal with the expected rush of Christmas shoppers.
It has now emerged that the Government is considering a plan to allow retailers to continue trading well after normal closing time.
Retail Minister Damien English said he is working with local authorities and other state agencies to ensure retailers can safely meet the demand of shoppers during the Christmas weeks.
"Many retailers are saying they will need longer hours, and we will consider this in the context of our plans for December," Mr English told the Herald.
"Retailers engaging with the Retail Forum have so far asked for longer hours but not specifically 24-hour opening, although that has happened in the past."
Negotiations are continuing, but it is understood local authority staff may be asked to monitor queues and public spaces in the main shopping areas in cities and towns over Christmas.
The Government is eager to allow retailers, including those in shopping centres, to open next month, but medical considerations will decide what measures they take.
The Department of Business is in talks with retailers, local authorities and planning agencies about drafting a plan.
In most cities, shops can open as late as they want, but in more suburban areas they may be limited by local authority rules.
Waivers of planning laws may be needed to allow some businesses to open later than usual.
Consideration is being given to whether it is safer to allow shops to open late to avoid large queues building up.
However, there are also concerns about the impact of people congregating outside shops and inside shopping centres when the virus is still spreading in communities.
Meanwhile, households have become a hotbed for Covid-19, with outbreaks in homes more than doubling in the space of a week.
There were 954 outbreaks of the virus last week, up from 443 in the previous seven days.
The increasingly worrying picture has emerged as 12 more people died of Covid-19, bringing to more than 2,000 the number here who have lost their lives to the virus since the start of the pandemic.
The daily toll of cases remained high at 376 yesterday, confirming fears that the lockdown is no longer driving down the spread of infection as much as was hoped.
"Today we sadly report over 2,000 deaths associated with Covid-19 to date in this country," Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said.
"This pandemic has impacted, directly and indirectly, on families and communities all across Ireland.
"It is important that we continue to work together if we are to suppress this virus and prot-ect as many people as possible.
"For the next two weeks, work from home, stay at home and follow public health advice."
As of 2pm yesterday, 282 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, with 33 seriously ill in intensive care.
The 14-day incidence of the virus remained stable at 121.3 per 100,000.
Donegal, Limerick, Roscommon and Waterford are the counties with the highest 14-day incidence.
Among the new cases, 116 were in Dublin, 38 in Donegal, 30 in Meath, 27 in Cork, 22 in Limerick and 22 in Louth, while the remaining 124 are spread across all other counties.
New evidence shows people are at higher risk of picking up Covid-19 if they are indoors for a long time with a large number of others shouting and singing, combined with poor ventilation and little use of face masks.
The setting, which could mirror a traditional Christmas get- together, is revealed in a report that looks at where people are more at risk of transmission of the virus.
"The international evidence highlights that the main factors that contribute to the spread of Covid-19 are indoor settings, crowds and prolonged contact with others," said Dr Mairin Ryan of the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), which carried out the research.
"Much can be done to mitigate risk in these settings, such as ensuring good ventilation and people following public health advice to use face coverings, keep physical distance and wash their hands frequently."