There could be a serious spike in Covid-19 cases after mass gatherings in Co Down this week, according to the Health Minister.
Robin Swann said the numbers of people who are being diagnosed with Covid-19 is falling, but he stressed it is essential that complacency does not set in.
The UUP MLA hit out after up to 1,000 youths congregated at Crawfordsburn Beach and Helen's Bay on Monday as people enjoyed the scorching weather.
An increasing number of people have been ignoring official guidance to avoid beauty spots here, with police turning motorists away from Portrush recently. It has also been alleged that a police officer was kicked in the face during trouble at Ballyholme beach last Friday night.
DUP MLA Alex Easton asked Mr Swann for his assessment on the gatherings when he appeared in front of the Stormont health committee yesterday.
He asked: "Is there a fear there could be a surge in Covid-19 cases in several weeks' time because of this action?"
Mr Swann said: "Yes, there is concern because the guidance is there, two metres distance, six feet apart... it's there for a reason.
"It's not going out and having mad parties on beaches, that's where the threat comes in.
"Young people might not be the ones who lose their lives, but it may be someone they live with - they can take it back to their homes and spread it through their families. Please respect social distancing, please travel only when necessary. This is not an extended summer holiday, stay at home and stay off work."
It may be a number of weeks before the effects of mass gatherings is felt. This is because of the incubation period, the length of time it takes for the virus to spread and for people to become seriously ill.
Mr Swann said it is essential that people adhere to guidelines to prevent Northern Ireland from being hit by a significant second surge later this year. "If we put things in context, at the start of January nurses and healthcare professionals were on strike, so what our health service has come through and stepped up and delivered, I think it's unbelievable."
Meanwhile, chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said he could not rule out the possibility of thousands of deaths in a second surge, but said the NHS was better prepared than at the start of the pandemic.
He said: "We need a vaccine that works or we will continue to have potential for another outbreak. Anything remains possible, the risk that exists at present will be greater in the winter months given the other similar respiratory illnesses."