The Irish tradition of "open house" where people are invited to drop in on friends and family over Christmas should be abandoned this year due to Covid-19, a leading infectious disease consultant has advised.
Prof Sam McConkey of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin was speaking ahead of the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meeting next week to recommend what level of restrictions should be in place once lockdown is lifted in next month.
Prof McConkey said many families have traditionally had an open house at Christmas for neighbours and friends, but he added that "we just can't be doing that" this festive season.
There were eight more deaths from the virus yesterday and 330 more confirmed cases, a drop from 429 on Thursday, signalling some hope that it may be driven down again after stalling at around 400 for a "lost week" of lockdown.
The 14-day incidence dropped to 113 per 100,000, with Donegal, Limerick, Louth, Waterford and Roscommon again topping the table.
There were 283 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 yesterday, of whom 33 were in intensive care.
Yesterday's cases included 99 in Dublin, 28 in Cork, 26 in Louth, 25 in Meath and 21 in Donegal.
The remaining cases were spread across 20 counties.
Asked for advice on managing Christmas as safely as possible, Prof McConkey suggested families could "bubble up" with one other household.
"The Government may allow us to celebrate with a merging of two families," he said.
"It means it's the same people you meet on Christmas Eve as Christmas Day and New Year.
"The safe way is to stick with the same group. It shouldn't be different groups."
He said if people stick to the same family group, each could visit each other's houses over Christmas.
"There's no doubt that crowding with 10 to 20 people is how this vir- us likes to spread," he added.
Big groups are a bad idea this year, Prof McConkey said.
"We also have to be kind to neighbours who are alone and bring them a plate of turkey," he urged.
"It's a time of generosity and thinking of people, including older people, who are suffering through this time."
It comes as Central Statistics Office figures up to last week showed that people aged 80 and over have reduced their close contacts from 2.9 to 1.9.
There has also been a reduction in close contacts among the 45 to 64 and 65 to 79-year-old age group, but there has been an increase among 25 to 44-year-olds.
Overall, the number of contacts per positive case is three, down from six per case six weeks earlier.
Dublin continues to experience the greatest number of deaths.
Last week the total number of deaths from Covid-19 reached 1,721, with 251 more considered probable deaths linked to the virus.
Covid claimed the lives of 69 more men than women up to and including last week.
It also continues to affect the older age groups the hardest, with 64pc of all confirmed Covid-19 deaths to date among the 80s and over.
The latest analysis shows that the average mortality rate in August, September and October was five people per 1,000 confirmed cases, down from a peak of 74 per 1,000 in April.
Average hospitalisation rates in those three months were less than 50 people per 1,000 confirmed cases, down from a peak of 192 per 1,000 in March.
Intensive care rates in that time were five or fewer per 1,000 confirmed cases, down from a peak of 27 per 1,000 in March.