The man who helped shape Sweden's strategy of 'herd immunity' has said Ireland's lockdown has delayed, not prevented, the virus spreading in the coming months.
As the country prepares to lift the first wave of restrictions tomorrow, Professor Johan Giesecke, a senior epidemiologist and adviser to the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), predicts Ireland will end up with the same case and death rate, per head of population, in line with every other country.
"I can tell you, Ireland has a lot of cases coming," he said. However, he stressed that people should not be afraid and, "for most people, this is a very mild disease".
Prof Giesecke was speaking as Sweden's controversial strategy continues to make headlines around the world. The plan is based on the belief that most people aged under 65 who get Covid-19 - and do not have an underlying condition - will be asymptomatic or experience the virus as a mild to nasty bout of flu.
But contrary to misconceptions that Sweden has not implemented control measures, and instead allowed the disease to spread, the reality is different on the ground.
As WHO emergency expert Dr Mike Ryan recently said, Sweden has relied on the willingness of its citizens to implement self-distancing and to "self-regulate" while keeping its economy open and protecting the vulnerable.
If it proves to be the correct approach, Sweden could avoid the economic, health and social costs of lockdown.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Prof Giesecke said: "Ireland will have to step down at some point. Your government must realise that. You can't keep the lockdown for the next decade, can you?"
His comments come in the same week the EU announced plans to remove travel restrictions between member states. This could see Ireland among the first to face flights from abroad.
Prof Giesecke said: "Each country in Europe will have roughly the same death toll [per head of the population] when all of this is over. This disease is spreading like a wildfire - you can't get out of it. You can temporarily stop it with a lockdown, but when you open up you have it."
He said that after the final restrictions are lifted in the country's five-phase lifting of lockdown, "Ireland will have a wave of sick in the autumn".
He explained: "Everyone on earth will be exposed to this virus and most will be infected. It will change a little when you get immunity, but in principle it will come."
Prof Giesecke pointed to the spread of Covid-19 in Germany, where it is picking up speed again just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country could gradually return to normal.
Meanwhile, speaking about Nobel Prize-winning scientist Professor Michael Levitt's prediction in the Sunday Independent that Ireland will see a total of 30,000 cases, Prof Giesecke concurred with the number.
"I think he may be right, because 98pc of people who have the infection will not realise it - it will be a hidden epidemic," he said.
However, he predicts a higher death toll than Prof Levitt, estimating that Ireland will experience 5,000 fatalities, in line with 0.1pc of the population.
On Ireland's overall immunity against the disease, estimated at 6pc in a population of five million, he said: "In Stockholm county, with a population of 2.5 million, about 25pc to 30pc have had the virus. That is quite a big difference and it gets us much closer to some kind of herd immunity."
Prof Giesecke said in the coming months Ireland must continue to cocoon those vulnerable to the disease, while the rest build up resistance.
"I heard there were 200 outbreaks in care homes across the country so you should protect the old people, the frail people, but you shouldn't be too concerned for young people because most people will have a very light infection."
On when Sweden will know if its plan has paid off, he said: "It will take time. I always say you can't compare it to other countries by counting the death toll, which is what everyone seems to be doing, you have to wait a year.
"The deaths in many other countries will come much later, when they open up. A year from now, Sweden will be the same or surpassed by other countries."
Prof Giesecke says this is also reflected in the number of ICU patients in each country. Sweden now has three times the number of people in ICU, in comparison to Ireland. But he says: "It will all play out in the end."
He also points out Sweden has a sufficient number of ICU beds to deal with the true extent of the pandemic now, while Ireland may not.
On whether other countries can follow Sweden's strategy at this late stage, Prof Giesecke said: "It is never too late. From a disease spread and an epidemiology perspective, you can keep a lockdown for ever. But for social, political and economic reasons, that is impossible."
In recent days, WHO has warned the coronavirus "may never go away". "This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities," said Michael Ryan, the WHO's emergencies chief.