Coronavirus-linked deaths recorded by health officials in Northern Ireland have surpassed 1,000.
Health minister Robin Swann said the region had passed a “sad milestone” after 15 further fatalities were reported on Tuesday, taking the toll collated by the Department of Health to 1,011.
Another 391 confirmed cases of the virus were also recorded in the last 24-hour reporting period.
Northern Ireland passes sad #COVID19 milestone
— Department of Health (@healthdpt) December 1, 2020
The death toll recorded by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) has already passed 1,000. Last week it stood at 1,333.
The Nisra data gives a fuller picture of Covid-19 fatalities than the figures released by the department.
The department’s statistics focus primarily on hospital deaths and only include people who have tested positive for the virus.
Nisra obtains its data from death certificates in which Covid-19 is recorded as a factor by a medical professional, regardless of where the death took place.
The person may or may not have tested positive for the virus.
Commenting on the departmental toll reaching four figures, Mr Swann said: “We always have to remember that we are not talking about statistics but much-loved people who are desperately missed.
“My profound sympathies go to every bereaved family.
“This is another harsh reminder of the threat posed by Covid-19. No-one should underestimate the virus, or delude themselves that it could never affect them.”
Mr Swann had a blunt message for those who did not consider coronavirus to be a risk.
“I am very aware that there is still a small and vociferous minority who seek to play down the coronavirus risks,” he said.
“This includes those who spout conspiracy theories on social media and those who think Northern Ireland could somehow have breezed through all this without adopting restrictions that were widely deployed elsewhere.
“To anyone trying to minimise the impact, I say please think again.”
The minister added: “We need to ensure we get maximum benefit from the current restrictions in terms of pushing down infection rates. The same vigilance will be essential throughout Christmas and well beyond it.
“January and February are extremely difficult months for our health service, even in normal times.
“We need to keep doing everything we can to stop the virus spreading today and tomorrow, this week and next.
“Our actions will have a direct bearing on how the disease spreads, how it will impact on our lives and whether there will be a need for further restrictions in early 2021.”
Stormont’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the executive would meet on Thursday to discuss what restrictions will look like after the current circuit-breaker lifts on December 11.
She said ministers would also be drawing up guidance for people during the period of Christmas relaxations on household gatherings.
“So what I want us to do is to get to the point on Thursday where we’re able to announce what does post December 11 look like,” she said.
“We’ll be able to communicate that way in advance.
“It also, I think, is another chance for us to come out and say and add to what we’ve already said around the Christmas relaxations.”
Ms O’Neill said she hoped there would be no repeat of the arguments that hindered executive attempts to agree Covid-19 regulations last month.
“We’re clearly still in a very difficult position and even though Christmas is approaching we know it’s not going to be a Christmas like any other. So they’re difficult decisions to be taken but the guiding principles through it all should be – what is the advice of health (experts)?” she said.