The easing of restrictions out of level five on December 1st could lead to thousands of new cases of coronavirus and further lockdowns in the New Year, according to an immunology expert.
Dr Tomás Ryan, Associate Professor in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, is warning that opening up the country again will put the health system under unmanageable pressure.
It comes as Cabinet ministers are meeting this morning to discuss the options for the lifting of level five restrictions.
No decision is expected today, but ministers will set out their views on what should be allowed to open from December 1st.
It is anticipated that the country will move to level three with some changes next week.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Dr Ryan advised that lockdowns should be used as "investments" in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
He said: "If we take our feet off the brakes on December 1st, we're going to have thousands of cases and we know our public health infrastructure cannot suppress this.
"If we open up on December 1st, we are admitting that the only way we can respond to this is by prolonged lockdowns, further lockdowns in January and beyond that.
"My view, and the view of my colleagues, is that we have invested heavily in restrictions so far and we need to consider, I don't like using the 'l' word, lockdown, as an investment.
"The concern is that if we squander that investment over a concentrated couple of weeks of activity, we're going to be not only increasing the health and mortality risks and the number of people getting infected, but more than that, we're going to be creating more restrictions for us."
Meanwhile, there were no new deaths and 252 further cases of the coronavirus reported here yesterday.
Dr Ryan added the easing of restrictions will lead to a third lockdown in January and a third wave of the virus.
He said: "Just after New Year's, we're going to be accelerating a third wave, which we don't want to have, we would rather prevent a third wave, and prevent a third lockdown."
Fire and water
He explained that "we need to look about the restrictions and the virus by analogy as water and fire".
Dr Ryan said: "The virus in the population as fire can double and double, and water is what we use to put it out.
"When you're dealing with your house on fire, you don't ration the water.
"You don't think about, well we decided to sprinkle water on this until December 1st and then we're going to stop, regardless of how much the house is still on fire.
"You don't do that, you put the fire out or down to a manageable level.
"We're not going to hit our target by December 1st so in order not to have wasted the efforts so far, [we need] to get to a stage where the fire is under control.
"When it's under control, we get it down to single-digit cases as we have before.
"The cost is going to be greater if we don't do that."
Dr Ryan said that while we were making progress before entering level five restrictions, he believes that level three wasn't working, especially in Dublin.
He added: "What was working was a combination of level three, a ban on home visits and the warning of Dr Tony Holohan that we needed to go to level five which changed people's behaviour.
"That combined started to give us an effect before level five but level five also had an effect.
"It's true that in the last number of weeks, that effect has been weaning.
"We don't know why level five has stopped working so effectively, it could be because people's behaviour has relaxed."