Northern Ireland could see up to 15,000 deaths due to coronavirus in a "worst case nightmare scenario", Health Minister Robin Swann has warned.
The stark message came after the Department of Health announced yesterday morning that an elderly man died in hospital in the greater Belfast area, the first coronavirus death here.
Elsewhere, a medical expert said that "whether you're five years old or 85 years old", a pandemic like this will never be witnessed again in our lifetime.
In an earlier press briefing Mr Swann had said the number of coronavirus deaths could reach 9,000 if the public does not adhere to Government advice.
He said Northern Ireland is facing a surge "of biblical proportions".
During yesterday evening's ministerial address, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, along with Education Minister Peter Weir and Mr Swann, passed on their condolences to the deceased's family.
On another dramatic day:
The 9,000 death toll figure for Northern Ireland was based on a 50% infection rate and applying the observed worldwide mortality rate of 1% (9,000 deaths among the 900,000 people infected).
Mr Swann later said that if 80% of the population (1.5 million) were infected - his department's worst case planning scenario - then the death toll would be much higher.
"If we fail as a community to take the necessary action to slow down the transmission of the virus, up to 80% of the Northern Ireland population could be infected during this pandemic," he stated.
"If all the public health advice is ignored, in a worst case nightmare scenario and with a fatality rate of 1%, then that could mean up to 14,000 to 15,000 lives lost."
The Health Minister earlier said that he wasn't being "alarmist" when he stated that 9,000 people could die from Covid-19 here.
"That is without the protections that we put in place as an Executive and that's without personal steps that we're asking individuals to take," he continued.
Mr Swann also stated that his department will be increasing its capacity for 800 coronavirus tests per day and building the workforce capacity by redeploying third-year nursing and midwifery students to clinical care.
Around 230 final-year students at Queen's University Belfast's Medical School will also join the medical register four months early. "Sadly, it won't be our last death but we must do everything in our power to keep that total as low as possible, and that's individual responsibility," Mr Swann said yesterday. "That's why keeping your distance from others is so vital, especially those who are vulnerable and unwell.
"Keep washing your hands throughout the day, every day and don't be a spreader.
"Our health service is already becoming unrecognisable before our very eyes but we will continue to look after those needing urgent care."
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has been warned to brace itself for further coronavirus deaths over the next couple of weeks.
Dr Connor Bamford, a virologist at Queen's University, urged the public to not let up in the fight against the pandemic after an elderly man was confirmed yesterday to be first person here to die from Covid-19.
Dr Bamford said, sadly, it was always a case of not if, but when health authorities experienced the first coronavirus fatality, stressing measures such as social distancing and the closure of schools are the "new normal" for society.
Speaking to the BBC, Dr Gabriel Scally from Belfast, a former director of regional health in England, added: "This is the most serious thing you will ever see in your lifetime; whether you're five years old or 85 years old, you'll never have seen anything like this.
"I would plea to people to take this ultra-seriously. The only safe way to behave is to behave like you have the virus and you want to make sure not to give it to anyone else."