‘We are not out of the danger zone,’ warns Harris
As hundreds of shops reopen and tens of thousands of workers return to their jobs today, there is widespread nervousness among officials that the spread of coronavirus could creep up again.
Garden centres, DIY stores and golf courses will once again be open for business and construction workers are returning to building sites as part of the first major easing of restrictions since the coronavirus crisis began.
Four people from different households are now allowed to meet outside for the first time in months, albeit while maintaining two-metre physical distancing and staying within 5km of their homes.
But the number of new cases and the reproductive rate of the virus will be closely monitored amid concern about additional interactions between the public.
Health Minister Simon Harris warned: "We are not out of the danger zone."
Some 20,000 people are set to return to work in garden centres, hardware stores and other retailers such as phone shops and opticians.
About 150,000 construction workers will also be returning to sites over the coming weeks.
Mr Harris urged people to continue practices such as social distancing and advised staying at home aside from the limited exceptions such as exercise and travelling to shops for items they need.
He cautioned that if the country gets the next few weeks wrong "we end up in real difficulty".
Mr Harris said: "If we move too fast, we go backwards and we go the way other countries have gone," and this can't be allowed to happen.
He added that it would lead to increased numbers of cases and "many more losing their lives".
Last night, it was announced that a further 10 people with Covid-19 have died, bringing the death toll to 1,543.
The number of new cases remained below 100 at 64. In total 24,112 people are known to have fallen ill with the virus here.
Senior Government sources said that key to Ireland's ability to move through the roadmap for the easing of restrictions would be the reproductive rate of the virus or R-rate.
This currently stands at 0.5, meaning less than one person is on average infected by contact with someone who has the virus.
There is an expectation the rate will rise as restrictions ease but once it remains below one it still means the virus is being suppressed, though at a slower rate. Even a small rise of the R-rate above one would have a "significant" impact in terms of the number of cases and would represent a "very serious setback".
HSE boss Paul Reid said this week marked a "very important milestone" as the relaxation of restrictions begins. "I want to urge everybody that we can't undo everything that we have achieved together over the last few weeks," he said.
Mr Reid said he would be concerned if the infection rate started to increase again.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said that as restrictions were lifted, hand washing, respiratory hygiene and physical distancing "are even more important".
He also urged people: "If you have cold or flu-like symptoms, even mild ones, isolate at home and call your GP. Do it today. Don't put it off."
The HSE said it had the capacity to carry out 100,000 tests each week and it could cope with the extra demand from widening testing criteria.