A third period of lockdown may be required in the new year, the Tánaiste has told the Dáil.
Speaking during a debate on Covid-19, Leo Varadkar said that he hoped that such a period would be shorter than the current six-week period.
Mr Varadkar said that he believed that Level 3 restrictions "probably worked better than we thought" but said that the current Level 5 restrictions were needed to bring down numbers further.
"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."
He said that Ireland's strategy now could be considered "delay and vaccinate", saying that while vaccines are on the way, they have yet to arrive and this meant that measures such as social distancing will be the norm until they do.
The Tánaiste said that the current second wave of the virus has proved to be different to the first, saying that it is less deadly and has put less strain on the healthcare system.
Mr Varadkar said that this year's "will not be a normal Christmas", but encouraged people not to lose hope.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that as we move to the next stage "complacency will remain our enemy".
"I accept the goodwill of every group which is calling for the relaxation of restrictions impacting on them. They care passionately about their businesses and their sectors.
"And I fully accept their statements that they want to respect guidelines.
"But the reality is that for some activities the guidance will be that there is too much risk – and for all activities there are core guidelines and restrictions on how we act which we must respect."
Sinn Féin's health spokesperson said that the Government's job now was to "end the cycle of lockdowns". He said that this could be achieved by safely exiting restrictions next week.