Ireland’s first step out of lockdown is a crucial moment in the fight against coronavirus, the Health Minister said, warning that the country remained in the danger zone.
Simon Harris said Ireland would end up in a “bad place” if people did not proceed with caution and tried to move ahead of what the eased restrictions allowed.
“We have all come too far and sacrificed too much to screw it up,” he said.
Some retail outlets will open on Monday and sports like golf and tennis will resume. People will be able to meet in groups of four in outdoor locations as long as social distancing is observed.
The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,543 after 10 more deaths were announced.
There were 64 new cases of the disease confirmed on Sunday – the lowest since mid-March.
The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Ireland stands at 24,112.
Mr Harris’s plea for caution came as HSE figures showed the virus’s prevalence continued on a downward trajectory.
We have all come to far & sacrificed too much to screw it up. So proceed with caution & care. We are so interdependent - I am depending on you by your actions to keep me safe & well & vica versa. So keep our distance, wash hands, dont all rush to whatever is open & letâs do this— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) May 17, 2020
There were 54 Covid-19 patients in ICU on Sunday, down by 67% from the peak in mid-April when around 160 people were receiving intensive care treatment.
The overall coronavirus hospital admission rate is down 66% from the peak.
Around 4,000 tests are currently being completed each day in Ireland. Of those, around 98% are testing negative. The 2% positivity rate is down from 25% in mid-April.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Mr Harris emphasised the importance of not rushing out of lockdown.
He said he was “pleased and nervous” for the country.
Mr Harris said he was pleased because the easing of restrictions was “recognition of incredible progress” Irish people had made in suppressing the virus.
“Nervous because this is a crucial moment – we must get it right, we must proceed with real caution,” he added.
“If, together, we carefully manage the next three weeks & follow public health advice & take so seriously the measures we need to, we could find ourselves able to move further in a few weeks.
“If we get it wrong, if we get lax with our own actions we could find ourselves in a bad place.”
He added: “We are not out of the danger zone.”
New test and tracing targets will be in operation as the lockdown starts to ease.
Ireland will also have the capacity to test 100,000 people per week from next week.
One new target is a three-day timeframe from the point of test referral to the completion of contact tracing, in 90% of positive cases.
The other is a two-day turnaround from the point of the test swab being taken to the notification of the result.
That means of all people tested who return a negative result – currently 98% – they will be informed of that outcome within 48 hours.
Automation of the notification process is being introduced to speed up the timelines.
HSE CEO Paul Reid also asked people to continue to comply with the revised regulations.
“I would urge everybody that we can’t undo everything that we have achieved together over the last few weeks,” he said.
“So we all still have a collective duty of care to continue to protect our loved ones and to continue to protect our healthcare workers, particularly as we head into next week.”
On Sunday, Mr Reid outlined plans to gradually reintroduce healthcare services that had been halted or scaled back due to the coronavirus emergency.
But he said that would not be straightforward and would come with risks.
“People do want a level of predictability but we now have to deliver non-Covid services in a very unpredictable world, in a very unpredictable environment,” he said.
“Many people all across the health service are used to balancing risks every day as we have provided health services for many years.
“But this disease brings a very new risk, a very live risk, we have to deal with this risk every day.
“So delivering services now still remains high risk and I want to assure the public that this is the way we will go back into providing these services – being very conscious of the issue of managing a high-risk environment from the Covid disease.”