First Minister Arlene Foster says the curve of coronavirus infection has been pushed down "across all of the health indicators", hailing it as a "significant achievement".
This means that fewer people are catching Covid-19 and fewer patients are needing to be hospitalised or require intensive care support, so more lives are being saved.
Speaking at the weekly Executive press conference in Dungannon, Mrs Foster said the R number is "steadily below 1" in the community, "probably between 0.75 and 0.85".
She described the daily case number of 253, and hospital inpatients falling to 518 from 746 a week ago and the numbers of Covid patients being treated in ICU falling below 60, as "another gradual but positive step forward".
The DUP leader added that the numbers show "we can disrupt the path of this virus but it is still with us".
She said: "The weeks ahead will continue to be difficult but we are right to remain hopeful and have the expectation of better days ahead."
Mrs Foster said a quarter of all adults in Northern Ireland will have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccination by the weekend, which she described as "excellent progress" and a "significant milestone".
She said next week will be a "key decision point" when the coronavirus regulations will be reviewed.
"We need to see the numbers as low as possible so that we can safely plan for gradually emerging from the lockdown. We all want to see an end of the restrictions but we must approach that with care so we don't lose the gains that we have made," she added.
Appearing alongside Mrs Foster, Finance Minister Conor Murphy also hailed evidence that the pandemic is "beginning to decline".
"Any changes to the restrictions of our behaviours will cause the pandemic to escalate so the restrictions do remain necessary and the actions of the public are still crucially important. The Executive are looking forward to the next phase of our response. There is a collective focus on a managed recovery guided by the medical and the scientific advice," he said.
It comes as a further nine people in Northern Ireland have died after testing positive for Covid-19 and 253 new cases of the virus have been reported.
This brings the death toll to 1,966 and the total number of confirmed cases since the outbreak to 108,027. Some 2,377 people have tested positive in the last seven days.
Of the nine fatalities, eight happened within the current reporting period, from 10am on Wednesday to 10am on Thursday, while the remaining death occurred previously.
There are currently 518 Covid patients in hospitals across Northern Ireland, with 58 in intensive care and 53 requiring ventilation. Hospitals are operating at 95% occupancy.
A total of 80 care homes are dealing with outbreaks of the virus.
Earlier Health Minister Robin Swann revealed that the Kent variant of coronavirus now accounts for between 40% and 60% of new cases here.
He said the evidence is starting to show that the restrictions introduced after Christmas have had a positive impact in reducing both Covid cases and hospital admissions.
Mr Swann added that the R rate has dropped below one, compared to early January when it was between 1.5 and 1.9, however it may now have "stabilised and stagnated" - meaning hospital occupancy rates my begin to fall more slowly.
He reiterated the comments he made on Wednesday, that it will be a matter of "baby steps" getting out of lockdown.