Health Minister Robin Swann has said the best gift we can give our loved ones this Christmas is to protect their health.
Mr Swann, speaking after the Executive agreed a two week circuit breaker lockdown to begin on November 27, called on the public to focus on pushing down infections rates and saving lives in the lead up to the festive period.
He said: "We can give our health service and those working in it some breathing space for Christmas and allow some more of us to be together over the holiday period. It won’t be a normal Christmas but we can make it a better one if we strictly follow public health advice in the coming weeks.
“As we move towards the festive season, this year more than ever let us take time to reflect on one of its most important aspects – gifts to our loved ones. What better gift than protecting their health, and giving them the prospect of more time with each other in the future. That is how high the stakes are.
“Hope is on the horizon for next year with the progress on vaccines. Please play your part in preventing avoidable deaths and ensuring as many of us as possible get to enjoy better times in 2021.”
Minister Swann reiterated that the virus represents the single biggest threat to the economy and said he understands the frustrations being voiced by the business community.
However, he explained the rational behind the new measures.
“The restrictions that have been place in recent weeks have made a difference," he said.
"There has been a reduction in cases per day of around 50% since they were introduced. But numbers of cases, admissions, hospital inpatients, ICU occupancy and deaths remain at a worrying level.
" Hospital inpatients are at a higher level than was reached in wave 1 and are declining only very slowly. As a consequence, the hospital system and staff remain under very serious pressure.
“Without further intervention, there was a very real risk of our hospitals being overwhelmed in the run up to Christmas. Care for Covid and non-Covid patients would have been in jeopardy. Lives would have been at stake. Further action simply had to be taken.”
It comes after a further 12 deaths and 369 new coronavirus cases have been reported by the Department of Health on Friday.
There are 445 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals, with 38 in intensive care units. Hospitals are operating at 99% capacity. A total of 3,230 new cases have been confirmed over the past seven days.
Of the new cases, 49 were reported in Mid Ulster, 48 in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon and 46 in Belfast.
The total number of deaths reported by the Department of Health now stands at 913.
Meanwhile on Friday the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) reported 79 coronavirus-linked deaths between November 7 and 13 bringing the total deaths where the virus was thought to be a factor to 1,227.
Follow how Friday's coverage developed: