Eight more Covid-19 deaths in Northern Ireland have provided a stark reminder of the impact of the virus, Robin Swann has said.
The Health Minister expressed his sympathies after the deaths were reported on Saturday along with 1,117 new confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The deaths of eight people who had previously tested positive were announced on a day when vaccination centres in Northern Ireland saw a surge in activity as they administered first doses to adults for the last time.
“Every death is hugely regrettable and I extend my sympathy to all families who have been bereaved over the last 18 months,” said Mr Swann.
“The numbers recorded today provide a stark reminder of the devastating impact that this pandemic can have.
“It will only be through continued vigilance and a collective effort that we can protect ourselves and those we care for.”
Operations at the mass vaccine centres are being phased out in the coming weeks as the programme adjusts how the majority of jabs are delivered.
First doses were available to adults for the last time on Saturday with second doses continuing to be administered in the centres in the coming weeks. A number of first doses will still be given at the centres to specific groups of eligible under-18s.
The mass vaccination centres, which have done much of the heavy lifting during the rollout, are being gradually stood down to enable redeployed staff to return to other health service roles.
This will mean the SSE Arena in Belfast and the leisure centres that have facilitated the vaccination programme will be able to resume their normal functions.
Vaccines will continue to be available through pharmacies and mobile clinics.
Community pharmacies will expand their vaccination programmes with the addition of the Moderna vaccine.
The new service will initially see 16 pharmacies offer Moderna, with more pharmacies being added to the service on a rolling basis over the coming weeks.
Mobile vaccination teams will also continue to visit towns and venues across Northern Ireland.
Queues formed outside the SSE Arena on Saturday afternoon as people arrived to get jabbed before the deadline.
Dawn McKee, the lead nurse at the SSE arena, welcomed the scenes.
“We’re very encouraged by the results today,” she told the BBC.
“People have appeared from nowhere, lots of younger people coming in now. I think they’ve decided that it’s time to get vaccinated.”
Health officials have been concerned at the relatively low uptake rates among the under 30s.
While more than 83% of the adult population have received first doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, the rate is only around 60% for the 18 to 29-year-old cohort.
The efforts to encourage more young people to come forward for jabs come as technicians continue to work to resolve issues with Northern Ireland’s vaccine certification system.
The new COVIDCertNI app enables users to show proof of vaccination for international travel.
The system for securing certification was partially suspended on Tuesday after issues with data sharing emerged.
It is being phased back in with priority being given to those planning to travel in the coming days. On Saturday it opened to applications for those travelling on August 2.