Health Minister Robin Swann has given the strongest hint yet that local lockdown measures or other restrictions could soon be reimposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.
The warning comes as Mid & East Antrim had the highest weekly rise in Covid cases of any local government district in Northern Ireland.
He was speaking at the first Stormont press conference to take place in more than six weeks.
On Tuesday, one more death was recorded bringing the death toll to 559.
Mr Swann warned that NI was in danger of “sliding down a very slippery and treacherous slope”.
Forty-one new cases of coronavirus have also been recorded by the Department of Health, in the last 24 hours, bringing its total to 6,471.
There have been 531 cases in Mid & East Antrim out of 12,778 people tested in the area since the pandemic started.
Almost 300 new cases have been confirmed in Northern Ireland over the past seven days.
78 new cases in Mid & East Antrim in the last week is the highest rise in that seven day period of any local council area in Northern Ireland.
NI’s Chief Scientific Adviser Prof Ian Young said officials were seeing an indication of an increase in hospital admissions, but that they remained at a “low level”.
“If cases continue to rise it’s inevitable hospital admissions and deaths will rise in the future,” he told the press conference.
Mr Swann warned that people needed to realise the virus was still present in Northern Ireland.
“It is not inevitable, we can still arrest that slide but this requires decisive action from all of us,” he added.
“Covid-19 won’t go away just because we are fed up with it.”
The minister said he wanted to “address doubters and critics” who had accused him of exaggerating the threat posed by the virus.
“They’ll say infections are mainly impacting young people – this argument overlooks the fact there can be a time lag between infection and people becoming ill,” added Mr Swann.
He said there were always fine judgments to be made, but warned that the executive would soon need to consider the next steps in a bid to stop the virus from spreading more widely within the community.
“The time is coming for the executive to consider fresh and concrete actions to prevent further spread of the virus,” said the minister.
“This could include imposing localised restrictions or general measures or a combination of both.
Mr Swann said Covid-19 would not go away just because people were getting fed up with it
“Given where we are now, Thursday’s executive meeting will have important decisions and options to consider.”
Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said he did not want anyone to be in a position to reflect in the future and think they should have done more or “listened more carefully to the advice”.
He said the executive could need to look at restrictions on the number of people gathering outdoors.
“If indeed we see particular clusters related to particular establishments such as pubs or restaurants those also may be things we need to look at,” he added.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Mr Swann also said the Department of Health’s contract tracing app for Covid-19 had been downloaded almost 276,000 times so far, the BBC reports.