Health Minister Robin Swann has said that decisive action will be required from the Executive to protect Northern Ireland's health service.
Mr Swann pledged to take "robust action" with pressure mounting on hospitals across the region.
At one stage on Tuesday evening 17 ambulances were parked outside Antrim Area Hospital, with patients unable to be admitted due to a lack of beds.
The UUP MLA admitted "we are not where we want to be" with Covid-19, despite the two-week circuit breaker lockdown.
"The restrictions have had some impact, but the virus is once again on the advance," he said.
Mr Swann said the threat from the virus would "hang over all our Christmases and cast a shadow well into January".
He said hospitals and the wider health sector were under "immense pressure" and there were growing fears January would be much worse.
The health minister said the Executive would be expected to take action and reiterated his intention to bring forward proposals at an Executive meeting on Thursday.
Mr Swann encouraged people to keep their guard up over the Christmas period, and spoke of hope next spring and summer following wider vaccinations, but warned "undoubtedly some very dark hours will come before that dawn".
His comments come after a further eight deaths and 510 new cases of Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health on Wednesday.
It brings to 1,143 the total number of deaths due to the virus, while 59,631 have now tested positive for the virus here.
First Minister Arlene Foster also warned of the "serious situation" as recent restrictions failed to have the desired effect on rates here.
"Unfortunately the last two weeks don't appear to have brought the R number down below 1, there is a diminishing return in terms of restrictions, people are out and about now and so there is a very great need for people to have personal responsibility," she said, speaking in Newry.
She said people needed to take "all and every precaution" when they come together at Christmas.
Follow how Wednesday's coverage unfolded: