Paschal Donohoe has warned the country needs to look “beyond Christmas” ahead of a decision on lifting pandemic restrictions next week.
The decline in transmission rates has stalled, causing health bosses to warn the country has two weeks to turn things around.
With Government meeting next week to decide on a lockdown exit strategy, the Finance Minister talked up the need to keep virus levels low beyond December 25.
Mr Donohoe said: “We do need to look beyond Christmas itself. And be aware that the medium term goal in advance of a vaccine being broadly available is to get the spread of the disease down to the lowest level possible.
“Christmas is so important from a family point of view, from a wellbeing point of view, and for some from a worship point of view. So I recoil from saying that we’re in some way caught up with it.
“But if you talk to somebody who’s running a business, somebody’s who’s running a restaurant and is thinking of reopening it, they do want certainty beyond the 25th of December.”
Level five restrictions are due to end on December 1 and businesses, retailers and families are all hoping they will be eased in the run up to Christmas.
Mr Donohoe did offer some hope this might happen, saying transmission rates would not be the only factor in their decision.
He told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “The mortality rate is massively down from where we were.
“The number of our citizens that are in ICU are massively down as well. They’re equally important indicators to allow the Government to make the right decisions.”
We are now in a better place. We're just not in as good a place as we would like to be.Paschal Donhoe
Amid rumours of fresh rows between Government and Nphet on the right way forward, Mr Donohoe said he was braced for “intense discussions” with public health chiefs.
He added: “We will be hearing the assessment of Nphet as to where this issue stands.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge in this, that while we have the disease not come down in the way we would want in recent days, it’s also very clear that we are making progress in beating this disease.
“If you look at all the indicators of where we were a few weeks ago, we are now in a better place. We’re just not in as good a place as we would like to be.”
The Chief Medical Officer has warned that progress made on combating the virus during level five has “stalled”.
On Thursday, Dr Tony Holohan warned too many people were going to workplaces who could work from home and expressed concern about those with Covid-19 symptoms going into the office.
He said a week had been lost during the spell of tough lockdown measures and urged people to reduce their number of social contacts.
He said: “In our objective to use a six-week period to drive down Covid-19 infection in the community, our progress has stalled in the last week.
“We now have two weeks to get back on track.”
Dr Holohan called for a collective final push to drive the infection rate down.