The First and deputy First Ministers have lead message of condolence following the first confirmed death of a patient who tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.
Announcing the news on Thursday morning, the Department of Health said the patient was elderly and had an underlying health condition.
It is understood the patient was a man. He was being treated at a hospital in the greater Belfast area.
First Minister Arlene Foster said it was a "sad day for Northern Ireland" and said her thoughts and prayer are foremost with the patient's family.
“This is not unexpected news. We knew that this pandemic would inevitably cost precious lives. We cannot stop it. But it is incumbent on all of us to do whatever we can to slow its spread and shield those most vulnerable from the effects of this virus," she said.
This sad news brings home to us all why it is so important to take every step possible to protect ourselves and the most vulnerableMichelle O'Neill
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said that, while expected, the death is not any less devastating for the patient's loved ones.
"I offer them my heartfelt sympathy at this difficult time. I also pay tribute to our amazing health workers who are doing everything they can to provide the best possible care for people in the most difficult circumstances," she added.
“This sad news brings home to us all why it is so important to take every step possible to protect ourselves and the most vulnerable. The social distancing measures we are urging everyone to take are not easy, but they are necessary. We all have a part to play in keeping people safe and ultimately saving lives.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I want to express my deep sadness at this death and send my condolences to the patient’s family and friends. It is, of course, essential that we respect their privacy at this sad time.
In the midst of all the commentary about the coronavirus outbreak, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that this is a deeply tragic loss for the family and loved ones of the person who has sadly diedColum Eastwood
"I would once again appeal to everyone to play their part in fighting the spread of this virus.”
As of Thursday afternoon, a total of 77 cases were confirmed in Northern Ireland, an increase of nine, with testing set to be ramped up.
Robin Swann has also unveiled the first phase of health service plans to deal with the outbreak, designed to increase capacity and prioritise essential services.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood expressed his sadness at the news of the first death in Northern Ireland, stating it highlights the severity of the pandemic.
“In the midst of all the commentary about the coronavirus outbreak, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that this is a deeply tragic loss for the family and loved ones of the person who has sadly died," the Foyle MP said.
"We must do all we can to limit the scale of the damage on our people, by testing all suspected cases and practicing social distancing.”
“I want to pay tribute to our excellent health and social care workers who are working under extreme pressure, in the most difficult of circumstances, to try to help stop the spread of this pandemic.”