Health Minister Robin Swann has fired a warning at those who continue to flout health regulations, saying that they might as well be "slapping a nurse in the face".
Northern Ireland has been warned it's facing the most difficult winter ever as new lockdown measures from the Executive come into force.
Tough new measures come into force at midnight on Thursday, with First Minister Arlene Foster saying hopes are now pinned on the vaccination programme as being "our way out of this."
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said that the country is now facing "a desperate situation" as the Department of Health recorded a further 1,985 new positive cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, with 13 further deaths and the R rate of transmission at 1.8.
People are now only allowed to leave home for medical needs, to buy food or to exercise. Those who cannot work from home will also be allowed to leave.
The new rules will be in place until at least February 6.
Health Minister Robin Swann said: "We need to stay home and restrict our contacts as much as possible. It is that straightforward and that simple.
"If anybody out there still thinks that Covid is a joke, a hoax, I'll say to them 'catch yourselves on'. What they do is akin to slapping a nurse in the face."
As the new lockdown restrictions were debated in the Assembly, Justice Minister Naomi Long said that anyone leaving home without a reasonable excuse could be hit with a £5,000 fine.
While there is a long list of exceptions - including necessary attendance at work, accessing goods from businesses which can legitimately open, accessing medical care and taking exercise - a £200 fixed penalty notice can be issued for breaching the stay at home rule, which can reach £5,000 if the case goes to court.
"In addition, police will have the power to direct people to return to their home, and remove a person to where they normally reside," she told MLAs.
Ms Long emphasised that enforcement will remain a last resort but that the public are advised to stay within 10 miles of their home to take exercise.
Mrs O'Neill said Northern Ireland is now facing a "very grave situation".
"The escalation in positive cases is a real threat to our health service," she said.
"Covid-19 cases have increased to the point where it's simply not possible to protect the NHS and save lives without further significant restrictions. Doing nothing is not an option.
"We are in a desperate situation, and it's going to get worse over the next number of weeks."
Mrs Foster said the brightest hope on the horizon was the vaccination programme.
"We will come through this and the vaccine programme, which is a credit to the dedication of the scientific community as well as our health and social care sector," she said.
"We need to do everything we can to stay safe, protect the NHS and save lives. We have more difficult weeks to get through, but we will get there together."
Around 50,000 people have received a first vaccination dose, with 91% of care home residents have now vaccinated.
And Northern Ireland's Nightingale Hospital, based at the in the tower block at Belfast City Hospital, is set to be expanded from 24 intensive care beds to 32.
On Wednesday, the Republic of Ireland reported 17 further coronavirus-related deaths and 7,836 new cases.