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Good evening.

We have just had a sobering assessment from the Prime Minister of the choices we face as a nation.

As we are all now very aware, this deadly virus has crept into communities in every county in Northern Ireland.

Since Thursday, almost 700 new cases have been reported. We are now reporting the highest number of cases that we have seen since the early stages of Covid.

And there has been a rise in hospital admissions, with the number of hospital in-patients rising by 50% over the last week.

We need to act.

But I want to reassure you, that despite all the headlines, this is not a second lockdown.

This is a wakeup call. A reminder that we are not out of the woods.

As an Executive, we have agreed that your school, your shop, your factory, your business, your college, your local hotel or restaurant will remain open because they have all taken steps to stop the spread of the virus.

The track and trace system also points to limited spread in those facilities.

As you enter those places, your hands will be sanitised, you will stay apart, and you may even wear PPE.

We have however, from 6.00pm this evening, restricted how many people you can gather in your home.

This is a tough restriction in a country where we are known for our hospitality.

Despite all of our divisions in Northern Ireland, our doors have always been open.

We are good neighbours. We are a naturally hospitable people, but it is no kindness to host or attend large gatherings in each other’s homes at the moment.

We speak specifically about the house parties inside and outside. The only winner in the long term from such scenes will be Covid-19.

Over the last 24 hours some of you have contacted us online.

This is not about stopping your elderly mum or dad coming over.

They can be part of your bubble. They can still provide childcare and you can still provide care to them.

These are specific steps based on data and designed to protect your granny and grandfather. They’re about protecting your elderly mummy and daddy.

Our elderly friends and relatives remain the most susceptible to the virus and the most vulnerable.

I appreciate renewed measures are not good news but they are proportionate and we are trying to be practical.

As an Executive, we will not get every last thing right but our motives are to protect as many lives and livelihoods as we can.

As I have said before, this is not a lockdown, in fact these actions are designed to prevent the need for a return to lockdown.

If you are a tutor or a music teacher at home, your work can still continue.

If you are a childcare provider, your work can still continue.

If you are trades person, you can still visit homes to provide your service.

If you’re hairdresser or beautician working from your home or going to other homes, your work can still go on.

But please be sensible when people come to your home or you visit their home for work purposes.

Wash your hands. Keep distanced and wear a mask. All these small steps will help.

The Executive will meet again on Thursday. Between now and then, we will look closely at the measures that have been outlined today in the Prime Minister’s address.

We will again consider our particular circumstances and work with the other UK regions as well as our neighbours in the Republic.

But be assured that every step we take will be appropriate and proportionate. We are resolute in dealing with this virus.

But we cannot do this alone.

I am asking every person to join with us to limit the virus.

I am immensely proud of Northern Ireland. We are resilient. We are kind.

When our NHS staff needed encouragement, we all stepped up.

Six months on let’s give this one big push. For the sake of our brilliant NHS staff, our elderly and vulnerable let’s just be careful in our homes.

Keep washing your hands regularly and often, maintain social distancing and wear face coverings where this is not possible.

Download the Covid-19 app, act promptly on advice about testing and follow the guidance on quarantining to the letter.

Northern Ireland has been through a great deal down the decades. We have risen to the challenge many times before. We did so to great effect earlier in the year, and we ask you to join with us as we endeavour to do so again.

Together we must drive down the virus, so Northern Ireland can get back to its best and the place that we all want it to be.