Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has praised the sacrifices people have made over the past year, and said that "Now is the time to move forward, to go outdoors and to see one another again.

"As spring turns to summer, we should all take advantage of the bright evenings and warmer weather. Exercising outdoors is an important tool to protect our mental and physical health."

In an open letter to those who have been vaccinated, Dr Holohan says most of those vaccinated, so far, are people who would have been recommended to cocoon at the outset of the pandemic.

He says they can restart many things they used to do, once restrictions ease from 10 May.

However, he said it is important that such people keep up compliance with public health advice and existing restrictions.

Dr Holohan said that doing so can help avoid a dangerous surge in cases, which would require slowing down the progress of the easing of measures that is planned for the coming weeks and months.

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In his letter, Dr Holohan said: "This is not a signal that the pandemic is over. We have all come a long way and things will improve further but there remains a risk that too much social mixing especially indoors, in houses and other settings will lead to a further surge of this disease.

"It is important that we keep up compliance with the restrictions and the public health advice.

"The more we do so the more we can avoid a dangerous surge in cases, which would require us to slow down the progress of easing of measures that is planned for the coming weeks and months."

The Executive Director of Sage Advocacy, which provides support for older people and vulnerable adults, has described the CMO's letter as an "important acknowledgement" of the sacrifices that many older people have made throughout the pandemic.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Sarah Lennon said there was often a feeling of anxiety and isolation among older people, even before the pandemic.

"One of the best things to come out of the pandemic has been that sort of community response to those among us who may be older", she said.

"Picking up shopping for people, calling in on your neighbour. I think we really need to try and retain that community spirit as we get back to our so-called normal lives."

Ms Lennon said the easing of restrictions is a "big step" for many older people, and while the reassurances from the CMO are important, it will need to be a gradual reintroduction.

"It falls upon all of us to make sure that we're thinking about everybody else in our community as well as ourselves," she said.

Border 'dilutes' efforts in Donegal

Meanwhile, Dr Denis McCauley, Chair of the IMO's GP sub-committee and a GP working in Stranorlar, has said the "good work" of those in Donegal in adhering to public health measures is affected if there is a relatively high Covid outbreak in Northern Ireland.

Dr McCauley's comments come after there being calls for more walk-in Covid testing centres and improved communication of public health messages to help address the spread of infections in Co Donegal.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr McCauley said the efforts of those in Donegal are "diluted because of the border".

The border in north Donegal is "very much an open border" he said, with social, recreational and economic mixing.

Dr McCauley said Donegal was below the national average in January and February, and noted that Derry was also below the national average in Northern Ireland.

He said he is not trying to blame a third party, but that there are "other factors" rather than just bad behaviour.

He said the vast majority of people are "behaving really well" and people just need to "get back to the basics".

Speaking on the same programme, Paul Diver, Chair of the Donegal branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, and owner of the Sandhouse Hotel in Rossnowlagh, said he is "very concerned" about the rates in Donegal.

He said excitement over last week's announcement of the lifting of restrictions was "very short lived".

"There was a surge in bookings, but the CMO's comments on Friday night [about rates in Donegal] put a stop to that", Mr Diver said.

"What was said was said, but hopefully the CMO's comments and the huge negative publicity that's been associated with it, hopefully that can turn into a positive. I think there's still enough time to turn the situation around."

He called on those who are not complying with regulations to stop and to "do as the rest of the county and country are doing".

Additional reporting Fergal Bowers