Health Minister Robin Swann has strongly warned against complacency over the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
The Minister emphasised that Omicron poses a significant threat to health and social care services.
The Omicron variant is now dominant in NI, accounting for a majority of new COVID-19 infections.
The Minister said: “There remains a great deal of uncertainty about Omicron. Some early research from Great Britain suggests it may be less severe than the Delta variant in terms of the proportion of infected people who require treatment in hospital.
“More information is still required and the findings are not definitive. I must emphasise that this early research definitely does not mean that Omicron should be taken any less seriously.
“It is much more infectious than Delta and will therefore lead to much greater levels of infection. Even with a lower proportion being hospitalised, if the number of cases rises to very high levels, the number of Covid in-patients will increase as well. Pressure on our hospitals could therefore be significantly increased.
“In addition, Omicron has largely spread to date among young people and more data is still required on its full impact – including potential hospitalisation rates among older people.
“Furthermore, widespread transmission in the community will inevitably lead to more staff absences in essential services. That has the potential to seriously impact health and social care provision.
“It is therefore absolutely vital that we don’t let our guard down or be swayed by uninformed talk on social media.
“We must keep doing all we can to protect each other and limit the spread of Omicron. Get boosted as soon as you can. If you are not yet vaccinated, please don’t delay any further.
“If we all keep making safer choices in our daily lives, we can help push infection rates down.”