A mask mandate should not be re-introduced in Ireland, the World Health Organisation's COVID-19 Special Envoy has said.
Dr David Nabarro was speaking the Labour Party said they should be required for the first two months of the year to help deal with the surge in hospital admissions.
Dr Nabarro said everything possible should be done to avoid a mask mandate.
"I'm so against that," he said.
"Right now we are at the end really of a three-year period of trying to understand what this virus is all about.
"It's given us some tricky lessons to learn.
"One of the lessons that's come through very strongly is that the public - as a whole - gets concerned about being told or ordered to behave in particular ways.
"Perhaps the most difficult of those was the lockdown orders that much of the world had to be subjected to in 2020 and 2021.
"My own view now is that it's much better if there is constant dialogue between those in positions of authority for public health and the public... and the options are laid out on the table, and people are given the chance to work this out."
He said people need to understand why they are being asked to do things.
"I think much of the anxiety that comes, when people talk about mandates, is a sense that you're going to be required to do things and not given a chance to discuss or understand why you're being required to do them," he said.
"My recipe for the present situation is an absolute focus on dialogue everywhere - talk about it - and secondly do everything possible to avoid mandates.
"Thirdly, do encourage people to maintain distance, to mask up and to be careful if they're susceptible," he added.
'Overload of health services'
Dr Nabarro said Ireland is not an exception when it comes to over-crowded health facilities.
"Right across Europe at the moment, there is a really high incidence level of people experiencing flu, people experiencing COVID and people - particularly children - experiencing some other viruses as well," he said.
"In some countries, they're saying it's the most serious flu season that they've had for a decade.
"Others are saying that the combination of people who are sick coming to hospitals and so on is really leading to an overload of health services.
"The situation right across western Europe is really serious, and Ireland is not an exception at all."
He said health workers becoming ill is another reason "why there's an excess of demand over the capacity."
Dr Nabarro said those with weaker immune systems should be doing everything they can to avoid infection - including vaccine boosters and wearing masks in crowded spaces.
It comes as 5,288 sequences of the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant have been reported in 38 countries since last October.
Most of these are from the United States (82.2%), the United Kingdom (8.1%) and Denmark (2.2%).
Additional reporting: Jack Quann