Countries everywhere, including Ireland, are beginning the process of releasing the lockdown. The rules differ from country to country, but most are insisting on maintaining social distancing, keeping up with hygiene, wearing face masks in public and the all-important testing, tracing and isolating of infected people, or those at risk of having been infected.
The goal is simple: to prevent the number of infections rising again to levels that might threaten the health service, lead to more deaths and potentially another lockdown - which is unthinkable. The second surge. This is literally a matter of life and death for governments everywhere. Get it wrong, and people die. Get it wrong and economic havoc continues, with all the difficulties that brings.
The WHO issued conditions on April 15 that are needed for any government to start lifting restrictions. Four stand out:
The Irish Government is taking things cautiously, most likely because we are not where we want to be with testing, tracing and isolating. As well as protecting the vulnerable, this has to be the number one priority right now.
And so, we take the first tentative steps towards the light again. If we get the testing part right, we can proceed with confidence. And most importantly, as long as we keep up the good work with all the other measures, including wearing masks in shops and on public transport, this will help greatly to decrease the spread of the virus, such that the virus will be effectively eliminated.
This is what is being claimed by New Zealand, and surely we must aim to be able to claim that, too.
Our testing strategy is not there yet though, and falls under the category 'a lot done, more to do'. It needs our utmost attention. We desperately need a 'Minister for Testing' to lead this, given all the complexities. The price of getting it wrong is too high.
You can't do much about testing/tracing/isolating, other than watching closely and insisting we get what we need. But you can do all the other things to decrease spread.
Scientists continue to analyse just how contagious Covid-19 is. And it's scary. They have examined the early phase of the pandemic, when the various measures we are now following weren't being observed. If we loosen up on them, the horror stories I am about to tell you might happen again.
In South Korea, one study has shown that a patient called 'Patient 31' managed to infect 1,170 people out of a total of 9,000 who had gathered at a religious event organised by the Shincheonji church in the city of Daegu. In a nearby hospital, 100 out of 102 patients soon became infected. A doctor in Daegu has called this event - where one person was responsible for infecting so many - "like a volcano exploding". It was the ability of the South Koreans to test, trace and isolate following this event that brought the virus under control in that country.
Mass testing has been called the 'salvation of South Korea', saving many thousands of lives. Along with maintaining their testing protocol, what South Korea has been doing since then should be adopted by Ireland. Mask wearing is ubiquitous. There are hand sanitisers in all public places. Everyone has an app on their phones to alert them if there are cases, so that they can check if they were in the vicinity and report for testing. There is a highly detailed map that everyone can download on their phones which reveals where all the recent cases have been.
An even starker example of how contagious Covid-19 is, can be seen in what happened in the USA. The first case there was traced to Seattle. But what happened next has shocked scientists. On January 15, a 35-year-old man returned to Seattle having visited his family in Wuhan, China, where Covid-19 began. He developed some symptoms but went to work, had lunch in a restaurant and went shopping. A few days later, he tested positive for Covid-19.
Scientists working in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle got a sample of the virus from that first case. Each virus, just like us humans, has its own fingerprint. It's in the genetic code of the virus. The scientists were able to compare the virus in this first case, with samples of viruses from many places, which other scientists had identified and uploaded their fingerprints into a database of viruses.
What they found stunned them. The fingerprint of that original virus was found all over the place. This man had infected other people, and the virus had travelled far and wide, passing from person to person without them knowing.
They found it in samples from all over the US. And further afield, in Australia, Mexico, Iceland, Canada, the UK and Uruguay. It was even found on the Grand Princess cruise ship. On its journey from person to person that began in Seattle, it spent some time in Lynnwood, just outside Seattle.
There was a square dance held there one month after the first case, and three people out of 24 became infected that night with the same virus. A week later, there was a cluster of cases in people who had been at a party in Seattle. Four out of 10 of the people at that party had been infected there with the self-same virus. Current estimates are that this original case is responsible for 25pc of all cases in the US. That's how contagious this virus is, if left to its own devices.
The spread of the virus to many thousands of cases in the US, leading to many deaths, tells us of the dangers when the rules we are all now well aware of are not in place.
What does this mean for the next phase of this pandemic in Ireland? Current estimates are that around 6pc of the Irish population have had Covid-19. Although we can't be fully sure of this number, it will be in that range. The other 94pc, and maybe even some of the 6pc, might become infected. All it needs is for one person to pick up the virus from someone else, and then start spreading it to others. This will happen if we don't continue to observe all the rules.
New rules might also help, like in Germany, where choirs have been banned for the moment, as singing can spread the virus. Clearly, mass gatherings can't take place, and nor can people gather unless strict social distancing rules are applied. It will also be difficult to stop if we don't have adequate testing, tracing and isolation in place, for "every case and every contact".
You can't do much about the testing, but you can certainly play your part by following the rules. Wash your hands, maintain social distancing, keep surfaces clean, wear a mask in shops and on public transport. Be unrelenting, because the virus that causes Covid-19 certainly is.
Luke O'Neill is professor of biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin.