Family Christmas gatherings could lead to further coronavirus-related deaths in the spring, an expert has warned.

Dr Gabriel Scally said he will avoid meeting his relatives this festive season due to concerns about the spread of Covid-19.

It comes after the Government announced an easing of restrictions of Christmas, allowing three households to meet for five days from December 23 to December 27.

Dr Scally, of the Royal Society of Medicine, said: "If we have a very merry Christmas, and meet lots of friends and relations, then I fear that in January and February we may well be burying some relations.

"That's the cruel truth of this virus. It's desperately dangerous and we mustn't let it surge back again."

Dr Gabriel Scally has warned Brits of the risks of meeting during the festive period

Families have been urged not to play board games if they meet at Christmas and avoid close contacts in order to avoid infections.

Sage scientists said families should be as careful as possible and avoid passing objects to each other or touching the same surfaces as those from different households.

During a Downing Street conference this week, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Brits should avoid hugging their relatives.

He said: "Would I say people should hug and kiss their elderly relatives, no I would not.

"They want to survive to get hugged again."

Chris Whitty urged people not to hug their relatives at Christmas

It comes after several scientists warned the easing of restrictions could lead to further coronavirus cases and deaths.

But speaking on RTE's Saturday with Katie Hannon, Dr Scally said the end of the pandemic is on the horizon.

He added: "Within the next month or two, we'll start to see large numbers of people being vaccinated, and why would anyone really want to risk going to social gatherings or large family gatherings at this time? This is not the time."

Dr Scally's concerns echo those voiced by the National Public Health Emergency Team in a letter sent to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly before Friday's announcement on the lifting of Covid restrictions.

NHS workers take a patient from an ambulance at St Thomas' Hospital in London

Nphet warned that "if restrictions are eased now to a similar extent but more rapidly than in the summer... in winter and over the Christmas period, a third wave of disease will ensue much more quickly and with greater mortality than the second".

Dr Scally said he would prefer the Government to adopt a more cautious approach in a bid to curb the spread of the disease.

He said: "There is a temptation I think when you've done well, to think that you can take your foot off the brake.

"The virus is so infectious and so dangerous that it can just accelerate away again very, very rapidly.

"I would be more cautious than the Government has been about December, particularly in the run-up to Christmas."

While Dr Scally said Ireland has done "exceptionally well" in the battle against the virus, he said Covid-19 is "still circulating at far too high a level".

Under eased restrictions, three households will be allowed to meet at Christmas

Asked about those planning to travel home for Christmas, he replied: "This is not the time to do it.

"This is the time for showing your love for your friends and your family by keeping them safe."

He said the effects of the virus will be magnified "because it is the winter and people are indoors".

He added: "They tend to keep doors and windows closed. That's absolutely creating the atmosphere the virus loves."

Announcing the reopening of the country on Friday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said: "In easing restrictions, we are going as far as we believe is possible to achieve the best balance of health, economic and social considerations. But no further.

"The Government and I are satisfied that this combination of new arrangements strikes a safe balance between maintaining the pressure on the disease and creating space for families, friends and loved ones to be together this Christmas."

Meanwhile, a further seven deaths related to Covid-19 in Ireland were reported by the Department of Health on Saturday, and an additional 243 confirmed cases.

It brings the total number of Covid-19-related deaths to 2,050 and the total number of confirmed cases to 71,942.

Of the cases notified on Saturday, 137 are men and 104 are women, and 71% are aged under 45.

A total of 91 of the new cases were in Dublin, 26 in Donegal, 18 in Cork, 16 in Waterford, 15 in Limerick, and the remaining 77 were spread across another 18 counties.

The number of people being treated in intensive care units is down four at 31.

According to the latest data, the total toll of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK is 58,030, while the total number of cases is 1,605,172.