It would be 'unforgivable' to allow a fourth wave of coronavirus cases to happen while vaccines are being rolled out, the European Affairs Minister has said.
Thomas Byrne says the Government wants to make sure the easing of restrictions week is sensible and allows people to be outdoors safely.
NPHET meets today to consider its recommendations to Government.
Senior ministers will meet later in the day to discuss which measures can be relaxed from next Monday.
A final decision won't be made until a Cabinet meeting tomorrow - but it's expected an easing of the 5km travel rule and allowing more outdoor activities will be the main focus for the coming weeks.
On Newstalk Breakfast, Minister Byrne said what he really wants to see happen is COVID-19 case numbers reduce.
He pointed to recent surges in cases across Europe, as well as in some places - such as New York - which are ahead of Ireland in terms of vaccination.
He said: “We certainly don’t want that to happen here as our vaccine rollout continues, because that would be really unforgivable I suppose.
"We want to make sure we end this and end lockdowns for good by having an effective vaccine rollout, and making sure we make the right decision regarding what we can and can’t be doing.”
Minister Byrne said there's 'undoubtedly' lockdown fatigue among the public after months of lockdown.
However, he said the options for reopening increase as we head into the summer months and better weather.
He observed: “We want to make sure what we do is sensible - I’d love to see children’s sports resume to some extent… I think that would be very, very welcome, and give a lot of families a break.
“Ultimately, we have to make sure we allow people be outdoors safely.
"A lot of outdoor sports are pretty safe. The problem sometimes, as NPHET sees it, is sometimes the gatherings around those become unsafe.”
Return to school
The Government wants all primary and secondary students back in school after the Easter break, and Minister Byrne said that's 'absolutely' still the intention.
He said reopening construction is still also a priority, but ministers need to wait for NPHET's advice to see if that can go ahead.
Asked whether Ireland's strict lockdown is out of line with the rest of Europe, Minister Byrne said most countries do have tough measures in place - even if there are differences when it comes to the specifics.
He observed: “There are schools closing in part of Europe… in large parts of America there are still schools closed. Other countries have curfews - for example, Belgium has a complete curfew after 10pm.
“Restaurants have not been open in Belgium since last November… that’s the same for large parts of Europe as well. I think we’re all in a pretty similar space.”
He suggested the Government would have “no problem” imposing a curfew if NPHET recommended it to facilitate school reopenings.
However, he's not sure if it's necessary at the moment given there are so few reasons to be outside after 10 pm - adding that there have been very few reports of house parties recently.