The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, said it is important to continue with the Covid-19 restrictions at least for another two and a half weeks until 5 May.

He said great care would be taken in any lifting of restrictions with close monitoring of the effects such easing would have on the behaviour of the virus.

In an interview on RTÉ's The Late Late Show last night, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said that the Covid-19 curve has now been flattened and that there is no peak coming.

This is as a result of all the hard work in communities and the measures that have saved "hundreds of lives", he said.

Dr Holohan said that high numbers of people are complying with the measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.

He praised the efforts of the whole of society to reduce the reproduction number to below one.

On average, a person who is infected is passing it on to less than one person.

"If we continue on that path the rate of infection will continue to drop," Dr Holohan said.

He also said it is encouraging that the numbers admitted to intensive care are continuing to drop.

Asked when the restrictions are going to be eased, he said: "We think it is important to continue with the current measures until 5 May."

He said the disease will have to "behave itself" and the reproduction rate has to remain low before they consider easing the restrictions.

He said it is difficult to predict if children will be able to go back to school in September.

''We are focused on 5 May and hopeful," he said.

Dr Holohan said there is no textbook that can tell you what the appropriate order is on a timeline to lift the measures.

"What we would like to do at the beginning is look at the things that have the lowest rate of infection and the greatest benefit resulting from lifting the measures," he said.

That includes economic and social benefits.

"We have to be careful as we lift restrictions that we don't get an unexpected surge in that [reproductive] number."

The Chief Medical Officer also asked people over 70 to "double down" and continue to cocoon because they remain "vulnerable".

The Chair of the HSE's coronavirus expert advisory group Dr Cillian De Gascun has said people have really engaged and complied with the restrictions and social distancing to stop the spread of Covid-19. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra, he said the challenge now will be to ease those restrictions in a "measured step-wise approach" but in the context of where the virus can still be tracked in the community. 

Dr De Gascun said testing capacity and turnaround is crucial to this. 

He said: "What we want to get to is a stage when somebody is referred; they are tested either the same day or next day and have the result the same day or next day and then contact tracing can begin. 

"So realistically that process is still going to take two to three days from somebody to being referred to being tested to contact tracing being commenced."

He said for now they want to focus on nursing homes and test everyone in these facilities. 

"At the end of that process, we will broaden the case definition to try to make it more sensitive and try to track all of the circulating virus in the community."

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed that 48% of eligible student nurses have signed a contract to become healthcare assistants to help deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Mr Harris said that "the country needs every hand on deck" and "student nurses are needed as much as ever". 

New data shows 1,400 qualified healthcare professionals have now completed re-registration and made themselves available to help deal with Covid-19 since the middle of March.

The data shows 346 re-registered with the medical council, 992 with the nurses and midwives board, 28 re-registered with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, 12 with the Health and Social Care Professionals Council and six with the Dental Council.

Another 15 have completed re-registration with the Pre-Hospital Emergency Council.

Mr Harris said the country will be indebted to them for their courage in the face of the pandemic.

Nursing homes are now braced for a short but very extensive campaign during which all of their 30,000 staff and 28,000 residents are to be tested for Covid-19 over the next seven to ten days.

There are concerns, however, about the disruption that might result if staff and patients need to be isolated as a result.