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Last month, standing on this hill, in the heart of Northern Ireland, I made an appeal to everyone to join us in keeping on fighting Covid.

To push down the curve of infection.

To take those difficult daily decisions to do the right thing.

To stay at home.

And you have, in your many thousands.

To all of you who have taken action, who have changed how you manage your everyday life, I say thank you.

Because three weeks on, it has made a major difference.

We have maintained the rate of infection in our community at well below 1, in the region of 0.75-0.85.

In real terms, this means that many thousands of people have been protected from this deadly virus, some of whom would not have survived contact.

In our local government areas with the highest figures recently like Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, and Mid-Ulster, the rate of cases per 100,000 has halved; with Newry, Mourne and Down seeing a fall of two-thirds.

We know that this has taken an incredible effort from everyone- individuals, businesses, local government, faith leaders and community and voluntary groups.

As an Executive we have identified a range of supports to assist individuals and organisations and the Finance Minister will shortly provide a funding update.

Earlier, the Executive agreed to a £37.7m package of supports set out by the Minister for the Economy for those in full time Higher Education here.

This includes:

- a one-off Covid Disruption payment of £500 to all eligible full time Higher Education students at publicly funded Higher Education Institutions and Further Education Colleges in Northern Ireland.

-Hardship support to students in need, with an emphasis on targeting those in lower household-income brackets;

-An allocation to the Higher Education Institutions to support digital inclusion for students;

-And increased support for our Student Unions and tackling mental health concerns.

In relation to our vaccination programme, as of yesterday there had been over two hundred and eighty-nine thousand vaccines delivered to two hundred and sixty-three thousand, seven hundred and thirty-five people.

Well over a quarter of a million people- approximately 1 in every 7 people in Northern Ireland- have already received a vaccine.

Those in all of our care homes have had a first dose, with 90% having had the second as well.

Approximately 90% of our over 80s have also now been vaccinated.

The Health Minister advised that another significant batch of the Astra Zeneca vaccine arrived yesterday, and will have been distributed to all GP practices by today.

I commend all those who are involved in the vaccine programme for their efforts. It is something all of us in Northern Ireland should be proud of.

The pressures on our hospitals are still significant. And we are mindful that the numbers requiring intensive care support remain at a high level.

Our experience over the last year has shown us that there is a fragility to all of our hard-won gains.

This is particularly so now, as we continue to assess and monitor the transmission here of the B.1.1.7 variant.

So, this is not the time to ease up, but to really push on, to exert the maximum control on the virus.

This time last year, none of us would have known anyone with Covid-19.

Sadly this is no longer the case now. It has come close by, or into, so many homes, to devastating effect.

Like so many of you I was deeply saddened by the passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore from Covid-19 this week.

His story embodied exactly the spirit that our society needs to get through this.

And he struck a chord with both young and old.

As he told us, keep taking the small steps.

And remember, tomorrow will be a better day.