The Northern Ireland health service is facing a “nightmare” scenario in January, according to a leading doctor.
Dr Tom Black, the NI chairman of the British Medical Association, said the “logical decision” was to go into at least another four weeks of lockdown.
A limited lockdown that was imposed on 27 November ended on Thursday night.
But Health Minister Robin Swann warned restrictions at the start of the New Year were “inevitable” and the severity would depend on people’s actions.
Speaking to the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show on Monday, Dr Black said the health service was under pressure, but acknowledged that politicians had a difficult time balancing lives and livelihoods.
He said January was always a difficult time in the heath service but that would be compounded by the pandemic.
“We have pragmatism, we have Christmas, we have politicians who want to be able to give Christmas to the public,” he said.
“There will be a balance there to be struck, between have we pushed our luck too far, do we need to step back and just bring in the lockdown that we would bring in at any other time of the year?”
His comments come a day after the Department of Health (DOH) recorded four more deaths linked to coronavirus.
The total number of coronavirus-related deaths is now 1,124, according to the department.
Another 483 individuals have tested positive for Covid-19, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 58,216.
Latest figures show the hospital bed occupancy rate in NI hospitals is now 98%. There are currently 110 coronavirus outbreaks in care homes.
Meanwhile, further doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine arrived in Northern Ireland at the weekend.
Almost 50,000 doses have now been received in total, according to the DOH.
Plans are being developed to allow the vaccination of people aged 80 and over to begin.
The DoH anticipates the vaccination programme will continue until the summer of 2021.
According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) the total number of registered Covid-related deaths is 1,480 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Nisra’s figures are based on mentions of the virus on death certificates, so people may or may not have previously tested positive for the virus.
By comparison, the DOH daily figures are based on a positive test result having been recorded.