Stephen Donnelly urged the public to “double down” on compliance with measures for the remainder of the six-week lockdown as he expressed concern over recent “stalled” progress in driving down infection rates.
He said scenes of people drinking on the streets in Dublin and Cork over the weekend and data indicating more traffic on the streets were evidence of people becoming “fatigued” with the restrictions.
The Level 5 measures are due to lift on December 1st.
Mr Donnelly said while the country had made great progress in driving down infection numbers in the first half of the lockdown, Covid-19 rates were starting to go in the wrong direction again.
He said infection numbers had fallen from 1,200 a day at the start of the lockdown to current rates that had seen 366 cases recorded today.
He said Ireland had witnessed the biggest reduction in cases in Europe.
However, Mr Donnelly noted that 13 of the 26 counties have had more cases in the last seven days than they had in the previous seven days.
“We are largely on course,” he told RTÉ.
“The first three weeks were really good, the R number for last week was down to 0.6.
“So people have made huge sacrifices, people have really got on board with Level 5. It has worked.
“What I’m saying and what the public health doctors are saying, over the last week it is clear that people have become fatigued. The gatherings in large groups to drink outside is one symptom of that. We’re seeing more traffic on the roads as well.
“There has been an easing off over the last week, so we want to see over the next two weeks we’ve got to double down, because we want to open up as much as possible for December.”
The Minister added: “There is no appetite to not exit Level 5 in two weeks.
“There was a very clear decision made, which was Level 5 for six weeks, which is why the next two weeks matter so much.”
Asked if the Government would approve a lifting of Level 5 restrictions no matter what on December 1st, Mr Donnelly replied: “I don’t think with Covid, the Irish Government or any government anywhere can say no matter what on anything.”
Mr Donnelly noted that the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) had recommended that Level 5 measures should be lifted if case numbers fell to 100 a day.
But he added: “There is time and if we don’t hit the hundred it doesn’t mean we won’t come out of Level 5.
“Obviously the Government and Nphet will consider a wide variety of measures.”
This evening, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan also stressed the need for a concerted public effort over the next fortnight.
Covid-19: 366 cases, 11 deaths
“The five-day moving average of daily cases has increased from an average of 350 cases on November 11 to 424 today.
“We have two weeks to continue in our efforts to drive down community transmission of this disease as much as possible.
“The lower the incidence the more flexibility the country will have in easing measures.”