The Tanaiste has raised the prospect of Ireland entering another period of tightened coronavirus restrictions in the new year.
In a speech to the Dail, Leo Varadkar also expressed concern about cross-border travel, claiming there had been a “less intensive approach” to tackling the virus in Northern Ireland since the outset of the pandemic.
Ireland is scheduled to emerge from its six-week Level 5 lockdown at the start of December.
Stalled progress in driving down infection rates has placed a question mark over what relaxations will be approved.
Statement from the National Public Health Emergency Team— Department of Health (@roinnslainte) November 24, 2020
The @hpscireland has today been notified of 6 additional death related to #COVID19.
There has been a total of 2,028 #COVID19 related deaths in Ireland.
Members of the National Public Health Emergency Team are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the situation before making a formal recommendation to Cabinet.
The Government is set to announce its intentions before the weekend.
Six further Covid-19 linked deaths were reported in Ireland on Tuesday, along with an additional 226 confirmed cases of the virus.
Mr Varadkar told TDs: “I believe we should seek to ease restrictions next week but not so much that it requires it to return to Level 4 or 5 for a prolonged period in the new year.
“A short third period of enhanced restrictions may well be necessary in January or February but we should try to avoid it being a prolonged one.
“Our strategy of suppression is perhaps best described as one of delay and vaccinate and I do not believe we are too far away from seeing it succeed.”
He said the arrival of safe and effective vaccines would “change the calculus for future decision-making”.
We would be in denial not to recognise that the less intensive approach to the virus there, since the start, has its consequencesLeo Varadkar
The Cabinet discussed its vaccine procurement strategy on Tuesday while the Government’s new vaccination task force met for the first time on Monday.
In his Dail address on the pandemic response, the Tanaiste said cross-border travel represented a “real risk” that the Government could not ignore.
“The incidence of the virus in Northern Ireland is a multiple of what it is in this state and so is the mortality rate,” he said.
“Northern Ireland is a different jurisdiction and makes its own decisions under the Good Friday Agreement and we respect that.
“But we would be in denial not to recognise that the less intensive approach to the virus there, since the start, has its consequences.”
He said Ireland’s public health authorities collected “very good data” on cases imported to Ireland due to international travel.
“Such data do not exist for cases linked to cross-border travel on the island,” he added.
“This is a gap in our data which needs to be closed as it affects our ability to make evidence-based decisions.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said he wanted to open as much of the economy as possible – provided it is safe to do so.
It is unclear yet how extensive the reopening of the economy will be in December, but Mr McGrath has hinted it could extend to restaurants and pubs.
“December is a crucial month for large parts of our economy and we also have to take into account that Christmas is a really important time for so many people across the country who want to meet up with loved ones,” he said.
“We also have to have regard to the early part of next year, so that we are starting next year on the best possible footing. There are a lot of considerations to take into account.
“I would like to see as much of the economy open as possible, provided it can be done in a safe and a responsible way and it doesn’t compromise unduly the progress we have made on public health grounds.”
Nuala O’Connor, the Irish College of General Practitioners’ (ICGP) lead adviser on Covid-19, warned that it was inevitable that cases will rise after Christmas.
She told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “It’s inevitable that the more people mix together, the more cases are going to start to rise again, because we know that this virus loves when people get together.”
Dr O’Connor urged people to think about the ways they could celebrate Christmas in a safe manner.