It's New Year's Eve at the end of what has been a fraught, anxious and unexpectedly difficult year.
Peter Weir has just left Stormont after a barrage of questioning in the Assembly. It hasn't been the Christmas he anticipated.
The start to the New Year doesn't promise much comfort.
"I'm tired now," he admitted.
"Just when you think there's a light at the end of the tunnel, Covid builds another tunnel.
"But we have to keep on going, doing what we can to get through this. It hasn't been the Christmas any of us would have wanted."
Not long after the minister announced the decision to again disrupt the education of pupils, it was revealed that almost 2,000 further positive cases of Covid-19 had been reported here.
That figure, he said, when coupled with more than 3,500 new cases in the two days previously, necessitated urgent action.
He said he was left with no choice other than making another last minute decision to extend school closures.
"I fully understand the frustration. I share that frustration. But when we were faced with those numbers there was little choice other than acting as we have done," he insisted.
Critics will ask why the decisions to extend the school closures, move to remote learning and lessen the anxiety felt by all in the teaching profession weren't taken earlier.
Going into the Christmas holidays knowing what lay ahead in January would have given confidence that the department was making the right decisions for the right reasons.
There have been calls for Weir's resignation. The fallout from the A-level results chaos last summer, and controversy over keeping schools open right before Christmas as the rest of society locked down, have all fuelled the fire he has faced.
"There will always be critics. That goes with the territory. I prefer to stick to the issues. Self-evaluation is not useful at this time," he said.
"I have to deal with the situation as it is. It's fluid and fast-moving and there is a real speed at turning round decisions that none of us are used to. We can't probe too far ahead.
"Ideally we would have liked a run-up to any intervention, but the scientific advice is that next week is going to see the biggest spike in infections. The advice from a week ago hasn't changed, but it has crystallised.
"Mitigations were put in place before Christmas, but the situation has deteriorated rapidly for all of us.
"The scale of the numbers we have been seeing has taken everyone by surprise.
"I was approached by the Health Department earlier this week to see if more could be done and I engaged with them.
"The numbers were rising fast and I am well aware the disruption is a problem, but there was a pressing need to act quickly.
"I sought that health and scientific advice before Christmas, and in reality that advice hasn't changed.
"I wanted to give schools every chance of remaining open. I had to hold on until I was certain I could stand over the decisions made.
"Any decision to disrupt the education of our children is not taken lightly. But on this occasion, given the rising number of cases in the community, there was no other choice than to act."
Another U-turn, then. But, said Mr Weir, the decision was less about what goes on in schools and more about the knock-on effect in society.
"There was a need to cut down the mobility of people," he explained. "There is more out-of-school contact between people when schools are open.
"I am well aware that teachers are having a lot thrown at them right now and that they have a lot to adapt to, but that has been happening to all of us in all parts of society.
"There is a need to adapt and change quickly in the retail world, the medical world, and all with a limited mount of notice given. Education is no different to any other sector when it comes to the spread of the virus."
The minister said he would support any measures that would allow teachers and school staff to receive Covid vaccinations as quickly as possible.
"It would be helpful if that was made a priority, but the decision on who is vaccinated and when is made centrally between the four nations, it's not a call I or Health Minister Robin Swann can make.
"I would be in favour of anything that lessens the anxiety staff in schools are feeling.
"I am hopeful that the logistics on the ground will be speeded up to allow the vaccination process to be turbo-charged. Anything that makes those working in education feel safer and more confident would be welcomed.
"Education staff are all key workers and there is no intention to alter that." Transfer tests for P7 pupils are looming next weekend, and GCSE exams the week after that.
"I have always said that all public exams should go ahead in compliance with public health advice and the transfer test is no different," he stressed.
"Both examining bodies are aware of what's required and have a range of mitigations in place.
"Both will ensure all pupils taking the transfer test will remain in their own bubble. It will not be a free-for-all of 8,000 pupils.
"And 26,000 pupils will be sitting GSCE exams a week later, but they will be in their own schools. I want to make sure that the rug is not pulled from under them at the last minute after putting all their efforts into preparing for these exams."
Further criticism has come in the minister's direction from teaching unions, who have repeatedly said the department has ignored concerns and turned away from consultation.
"I always try to keep the unions informed," he insisted.
"But everyone is trying to do everything so quickly that there isn't always the time. Speed of action is crucial. A lot of the decisions made through this would normally have gone out for consultation. Sometimes there's no time for that.
"Decisions were communicated as soon as possible."
But he warned it won't be the last time critical decisions over education will have to be made as we enter 2021.
"In the longer term I am well aware there will be tough financial choices ahead when we get through this," he added.
"There needs to be a certain level of increase in the budget. I want to see education more valued."
But the warning is there that there will be a limit to the money available heading out of Covid.
"With Covid it's more difficult to judge what will be required when we get through this, what the impact on finance will be," he said.
"But we have to ensure our teachers, our school staff, our education system is valued and feels valued.
"I know teachers and pupils are anxious. I have always tried to mention the debt of gratitude we owe them all for the way they have coped through this pandemic.
"I'm open to thoughts on how that appreciation can be shown."
The unions and the teachers will no doubt have their own suggestions on that when they get through the latest logistical nightmare Covid has thrown in their direction.