Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is becoming “increasingly concerned” that the “debate on the future of the lockdown is getting ahead of itself”.
Speaking at the daily NI Executive Covid-19 conference, Mr Swann also said he was “shocked” at the images of an Aer Lingus flight packed with people without social distancing.
“It was as if they were living in a time before Covid-19 completely oblivious of any of the regulations and the guidance,” the Health Minister said.
“How can they think that what the practice they were actually carrying out was in any way in keeping with the guidance that we have been issuing? I think was a short, sharp shock to them. That they should be behaving still in that manner.
“I will ask them publicly to revise that very quickly."
On the issue of relaxing social distancing and coming out of lockdown he said he feared Northern Ireland was getting ahead of the “reality we are still facing”.
“It would pile tragedy, upon tragedy if Northern Ireland lost its way at this stage,” said Mr Swann.
The Health Minister urged the public to stick to the guidelines to keep saving lives and protect the NHS.
He said it was right to plan for easing the lockdown but this didn’t mean “we are near the finishing line”.
“We have a long way to go yet. This is no time for bailing out or doing your own thing, We must stick to social distancing.
“Any changes will be gradual. There will be no big break-out.”
The NI Executive is hoping to announce its plans for the gradual move out of lockdown on Thursday.
”We can’t lose our way,” said Mr Swann. “We don’t want to look back in the future with regret.”
Mr Swann said that the front line in the pandemic has moved to care homes.
“Whilst the number of Covid-related patients being admitted to hospital are falling, I remain acutely aware that the front-line fight has moved to our care homes,” he said.
“From March 16 there have been 125 acute respiratory outbreaks in care homes reported to the PHA - 72 of these have been confirmed as Covid-19 with the remainder primarily the more common flu.”
He also issued a “May Day alert” and said “lives will depend on us continuing to do the right thing”.
“No matter how good the weather is, no matter how strong the temptation might be, don’t give in and don’t give up,” Mr Swann said.
Chief Medical officer Dr Michael McBride also warned he was “very reluctant indeed to see the Executive put in place any artificial timeframe prematurely” at this stage of the outbreak.
“We must very carefully map out step by step any changes,” he said.
“We have a number of weeks to go before we are in a position to be safe to step back from any measures,” he warned.
“I know that the stay at home message is difficult – it’s extremely stressful.
“I know also that the action we are taking is causing harm in terms of health and the economy and wider society but those measures and steps are absolutely essential to ensure we keep the virus suppressed, that we keep the reproductive number below one."
The Health Minister said he would also be launching an “apps library” to help the public deal with the mental health issues caused as a result of the lockdown.