There is "no roadmap" for when to ease the extraordinary restrictions imposed on the public due to the coronavirus crisis, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Talks are taking place on how the restrictions on everyday life will eventually be lifted, but he admitted the Government will have to "figure it out as we go along".
The Herald understands that a consistent fall in the number of Covid-19 cases and intensive care admissions will be key factors in determining when stay-at-home orders, school closures and business shut-downs are phased out.
In the meantime, Mr Varadkar signalled that restrictions on non-essential movement outside homes as well as "cocooning" for older people will be extended beyond next Sunday.
He added that ensuring people over 70 "see many more birthdays in the years ahead" was "worth that sacrifice for the next few weeks".
His remarks came as the death toll reached 174 and the number of Covid-19 cases rose to 5,364.
It has also emerged that there are now more than 700,000 people reliant on income support from the State after more than 500,000 signed on to the live register since mid-March due to virus-related job losses.
Other European countries, including Spain, France, Belgium and Finland, have begun preparations to ease lockdowns, with expert committees working out how to do this while avoiding a second outbreak.
Senior Government sources said decisions around easing restrictions here will be based on public health advice.
A consistent fall in the number of coronavirus cases was identified as one factor that will feed into decision-making, and the number of patients in intensive care units will also be a consideration.
A source said it was "still too early" for thresholds that would trigger decisions easing restrictions to be set, but they added that there will be "much focus on where figures will be at this weekend".
Mr Varadkar said that work was being carried out on when restrictions can eventually be eased and that it was being done by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).
He said it would feed into a group of senior civil servants and the Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19, which he himself chairs.
"This is an unprecedented situation: there's no roadmap for this. We're going to have to figure it out as we go along using the best advice and watching what's happening in other countries," he said.
Mr Varadkar said there was concern that if restrictions were eased the virus might spread again and that this had been seen to some extent in Asia.
"We also know that the restrictions can't last forever," he added.
He said the Government would act on NPHET advice and said he would not speculate on how long the restrictions would last.