Health Minister Robin Swann is urging people not to “throw caution to the wind” as coronavirus restrictions gradually ease, to ensure Northern Ireland’s exit from lockdown is sustainable.
Friday marks the next step in the easing of restrictions, with close contact services like hairdressers among those allowed to resume trading.
Mr Swann said he supported the Executive’s decisions around easements, but urged caution.
“I support the Executive’s decisions last week,” he said.
“As Health Minister, I am very conscious of the consequences of prolonged lockdown, not least for mental and physical well-being.
“I don’t want us ever to have to go back there and, working together, we can shape the weeks and months ahead.”
Let no one think that the threat from the virus is going to simply fade away. It is not. The good news is that it is in our hands to keep it in check, to keep it under control.
The Health Minister has called for a concerted community-wide effort to try to prevent another surge of the virus and maintain the progress achieved.
“We are all looking forward to restrictions being relaxed – it’s been hard earned,” Mr Swann said.
“Moving out of restrictions, however, does not mean we can ease up in our attitude towards the virus.
“We must not jeopardise the important progress made to date or do anything that could impede our pathway towards a better summer.”
He warned: “The achievable goal - and the objective for us all - must be to exit lockdown on a sustainable basis. That will require continued caution and vigilance.
“Mixing without social distancing and throwing caution to the wind will have consequences.”
As well as urging people to continue to adhere to the public health advice, Mr Swann also said getting vaccinated when eligible would help “protect our health and our freedoms”.
“There is an inevitable potential for a further spike in Covid-19 cases in coming months, as opportunities for mixing increase. We must be prepared for that,” he said.
“Our ability to suppress the virus and withstand any potential surge depends on us adhering to public health guidance and getting the vaccine.”
The comments come as the Department of Health said one more coronavirus-related death and 116 new positive cases had been recorded in Northern Ireland in the last 24-hour reporting period.