Ireland yesterday suffered its deadliest toll yet from coronavirus as a record 77 people with the infection lost their lives.
The number dashed hopes that the saddest days of the crisis may be over amid growing fears that people are becoming increasingly complacent about following restrictions.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, who announced the figures, said they need to be interpreted with caution as they represent notifications of people dying over a number of days and there can be a time lag.
He said each death is a tragedy, but there can be a delay in notifications and the percentage rate of increase in deaths and intensive care admissions in a given day has been falling.
However, the deaths bring the overall toll of people who have died nationally to 687.
Of the additional deaths announced, 67 were in the east of the country, four in the west, four in the north-west and two were in the south.
The Department of Health's head of social care, Dr Kathleen MacLellan, said there were 1,761 cases of the coronavirus in long-stay residential settings, including 1,204 in nursing homes.
Among the deaths, 406 have been in long-term settings and 337 were among nursing home residents.
Overall, 401 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed yesterday, pushing the total number of people infected so far to 15,652.
The figures come as a sharp reminder of the threat of the virus as concerns grow that people are getting more restless to ease the restrictions as the May 5 date for the end of the current lockdown looms.
Dr Holohan warned: "For now there is no room for complacency. There is no room to take the foot off the gas."
The major fear is that with an expected relaxation in measures, people will interpret it as a signal they can resume gatherings and get-togethers as well as other activities that would potentially accelerate the spread of the virus.
Dr Holohan said no decision yet has been taken on whether to re-open schools.
This was despite comments over the weekend by Health Minister Simon Harris that they could return for one day a week if public health experts advise it is safe.
Dr Holohan also said it was pub owners themselves who said as the crisis escalated that they had no choice but to close because of physical distancing.
The very nature of a public setting that involves people socialising in close proximity meant that this was not possible, he added.
He said nursing homes and long-term residential facilities are now a priority for coronavirus testing.
"In facilities with an existing cluster, all residents and staff are to be tested," Dr Holohan added. "In the event of a facility reporting its first case, testing of all staff and residents will take place.
"This sector remains a priority along with other vulnerable persons, and we will continue to implement supports and guidance on infection prevention control where required.
"We know from international and domestic experience that this disease disproportionately targets vulnerable groups such as older people and those with underlying health conditions.
"But we also know that the Irish experience in relation to deaths in nursing homes is not an outlier in relation to the European experience.
We continue in our efforts to support our population through this pandemic."
Meanwhile, nursing homes that have run out of single rooms for residents who have the coronavirus can gather them in a single area.
New guidance says residents who have the virus can all be placed together in a multi-occupancy room. However, others who may be probable cases should not be included. The new rules come as private and public nursing homes continue to deal with outbreaks of the coronavirus, leading to deaths and illness among many elderly residents.
It emerged yesterday that a hospital group has taken over the "operational management" of Dealgan House nursing home in Dundalk due to a serious outbreak.
It is understood there have been 10 deaths in the home, although it is unclear how many were due to the coronavirus.