Northern Ireland is at a crucial stage in ensuring the lockdown remains effective in order to avoid the risk of a further 'spike' in cases, a leading GP has warned.
Dr George O'Neill urged the public to continue adhering to the restrictions amid increasing signs that compliance is slipping.
His warning came as First Minister Arlene Foster heavily criticised the increasing public complacency after people flouted the rules at the weekend.
Large numbers flocked to coastal hotspots to enjoy the sunny weather, with crowds soaking up the sunshine and increasing levels of traffic on our motorways and main routes.
Reports also emerged that some sun-seekers who packed onto the beaches at Portrush over the weekend were forced to defecate in public as public toilet facilities remain closed.
Meanwhile, an incident at Ballyholme beach in Co Down on Friday night when a police officer was injured while trying to disperse a large crowd of people who appeared to not be social distancing also prompted widespread condemnation.
Branding the gathering, which has resulted in four arrests, "unacceptable", Mrs Foster, speaking at Stormont's daily Covid-19 briefing on Monday, said it was "new evidence of complacency".
"The world has not beaten Covid-19. This is a global pandemic without a vaccine yet. And it still dwells among us and loves mass gatherings," said the DUP leader.
"All of us want Northern Ireland to return as quickly as possible to something like the society that we took for granted just three months ago. But unfortunately (those who flout the rules) will prolong that journey if you ignore the public health advice and create the conditions where coronavirus can thrive."
Mrs Foster stressed: "The rolling back of restrictions will very much depend on how all of us act in the coming weeks, in how we limit the spread of Covid-19.
"Most of you have been following the advice from the Executive.
"However, despite warnings from ministers, chief medical and scientific officers - and indeed the Chief Constable - we have seen over the weekend new evidence of complacency."
She added: "And indeed, in the worst cases there has been flagrant disregard for public safety."
Mrs Foster stressed it was particularly egregious, given that police officers, as well as emergency services staff and those working in the health service, have been risking their own lives "in order to prevent widespread death".
Emphasising the First Minister's warning, Dr O'Neill said it was concerning the level of public adherence to the restrictions was "not as cohesive" as it has been.
"This virus hasn't gone away, it's still there and the problem is the looser people become in maintaining social distancing, the more likely it is we're going to have increased community spread," said the Belfast GP.
Referring to the 84,000 people here with underlying conditions who have been ordered to 'shield', he stressed it is important the lockdown is maintained and lifted slowly, in order to "free them up" even further.
It was revealed yesterday that those with GP letters can meet up with a single family member from outside their household in their own garden. "And it would be very difficult to do if people aren't adhering to social distancing," Dr O'Neill continued.
"The two important things are social distancing and washing hands. Those are the crucial things which will make a difference, which will allow some sense of normality to appear."
He added that while no one can definitively say whether or not a second 'spike' of cases here will happen, the evidence from historic pandemics - such as the 1918 Spanish Flu - means it is a possibility.
"That is a possibility (of a spike), but no one knows. Nobody can predict what is likely to happen, but if you look at previous pandemics, there was a second peak and even a third peak with the so-called Spanish flu of 1918.
"I think we should continue to be cautious and I know it's difficult for young people not to go out and party and have fun in the sun. At that age you feel immortal, but the risk is not to them, but their relatives and people who have co-morbidities."
He added: "We are at a staging post: either we'll have to stop and lock down again, or cautiously move forward."
Dr O'Neill's comments were echoed by Stormont health committee member Colin McGrath who said it was "disappointing" that a "minority of people" had ignored the rules. "I am quite clear that the only reason we've been able to ease lockdown restrictions at all is because of the hard work and compliance of people across the north," said the SDLP member.
"I know it is very difficult but people must continue to social distance, or we could risk seeing a spike in the infection rate and have to go back to fuller lockdown measures. Those ignoring the rules are risking the progress we've all made together and must have more regard for their community."