Thousands have applied to bolster the health service workforce as the public are urged to continue efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Health Minister Robin Swann revealed a fresh workforce appeal led to more than 9,000 expressions of interest and almost 5,000 formal applications.
Hospital occupancy reached 103% earlier in the week and had dropped to 97% on Friday.
In his weekly written statement to the Stormont Assembly, Mr Swann said the recent rise in hospital patients with Covid-19 is “expected to plateau in the next week at levels significantly above wave one”.
He said some welcome progress has been made in the past two weeks with tougher restrictions in place, including the closing of the hospitality sector.
However the minister said it is essential that this progress is not just maintained but accelerated.
“Over the last week, the number of cases has continued to plateau and has begun to decline slightly, however I would caution the rate of decline is slow and the trajectory remains uncertain,” he said.
The minister described the reproductive rate of the virus (R number) as “now likely to be slightly below one for cases”.
The Department of Health #COVID19 dashboard has been updated with latest data.— Department of Health (@healthdpt) October 30, 2020
566 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Sadly, a further 9 deaths have been reported. https://t.co/YN16dmGzhv pic.twitter.com/RGGbRlXn7L
The aim of the extended restrictions is to see the R number reduced to at least 0.7.
“The extent to which our recent progress is maintained will be a central consideration when it comes to deciding what measures may need to be in place at the end of the current four-week period of restrictions,” he added. But he warned that any expectation of a return to normality on November 13 is “entirely misplaced”.
Department of Health figures on Friday revealed nine further Covid-19-linked deaths in Northern Ireland and 566 new cases of the virus.
On the same day there were 354 patients with Covid-19 being treated in hospital with 43 in intensive care.
The health and social care system needs ongoing support across society at this critical juncture.Robin Swann
Mr Swann said health workers are making “herculean efforts” every day.
“While strenuous efforts are being made to maintain non-Covid services, this will not always be possible – especially when increasing numbers of ICU patients require the redeployment of specialist staff from other posts,” he said.
“There are herculean efforts being undertaken every single day by our clinicians to try to protect the most urgent services, including cancer surgeries, and in the event of cancellations I am assured every feasible option is being explored to reschedule them as quickly as possible.
“The health and social care system needs ongoing support across society at this critical juncture.
“That means all of us doing all we can to stop Covid spreading – cutting down our contacts with each other, maintaining social distancing, wearing a face covering and downloading the Stop Covid-19 app.”