TÁNAISTE Leo Varadkar has warned of the possibility of a second, third and fourth waves of deaths linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said there is the potential for deaths caused by the virus itself; the impact of the suspension of other health services; and the economic effects of the crisis.
Mr Varadkar made the remarks as he participated in this week's Global Ireland Summit as he explained the need for a new Covid-19 Oversight Group chaired by Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Martin Fraser.
The new Group will include acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn but will consist mostly of civil servants who will examine any recommendations made by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) before they are sent to the Cabinet for discussion
Mr Varadkar said that ultimately Cabinet makes decisions and in Government "the buck stops with you".
He said Nphet has been offering "top class" scientific, medical and public health advice but added that "by their own admission" they "don't necessarily understand how the economy works".
He said they don't know how schools run and restaurants and stadiums work.
Mr Varadkar said the Oversight Group is there to "buffer and temper" the pure public health advice and take into account economic, social and long term impacts into consideration before Cabinet ultimately makes decisions that "very significantly on people’s personal and economic freedom".
He said questions on the trade off between the country's public and economic health are difficult to answer.
"I’m absolutely sure that the best economic policy is to put public health first because if this virus goes out of control the virus will result in a lot of people getting sick including people’s staff, their customers and a lot of people sadly dying." He said that would have a "huge economic impact"
But he said it can't be "public health only".
"We do need to bear in mind that when we shut down elective care in hospitals, when we shut down cancer screening because we have to prioritise Covid that has a consequence as well." He added: "If we do things that increase poverty everyone knows higher levels of poverty result in shorter life expectancy, increased mortality.
"Increased poverty, increased unemployment causes people to die as well."
Mr Varadkar said: "We talk about the potential for deaths arising from a second wave of this virus.
"There’s also a potential third wave related to the fact that other health care is being suspended and delayed and of course there’s a fourth wave potentially of economic related deaths due to increased poverty and unemployment and all that goes with that.
"As politicians we’re the ones who need to think about that and I think that’s why these structures have been revised," he said.