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I’m going to begin today with the really positive news that, together, we have managed to push down the curve of infection across all of the health indicators.

That means that fewer people are catching Covid-19.

Fewer patients are needing to be hospitalised, or require intensive care support.

More lives are being saved.

The R rate is steady below 1 for cases (0.75-0.85); for hospital admissions (0.70-0.90); and around 1 for ICU occupancy (0.85-1.05).

This is a significant achievement. And reflects the many big and small sacrifices made by you, your family and friends, every day.

You have persevered and persisted and that is paying off.

It is right that we all should take a moment to reflect on this. Our freedoms have been curtailed for a considerable period, and it is essential that we provide encouragement to people and gratitude for their efforts.

Today’s number of positive cases is 253. The number of Covid hospital inpatients today is down to 518, from 746 just a week ago. And the numbers being treated in ICU Departments falling below 60 today, is another gradual but positive step forward.

The weeks ahead will continue to be difficult, but we are right to remain hopeful, and have the expectation of better days ahead.

Our numbers show that we can disrupt the path of this virus, but of course it is still with us.

Today in the Executive we discussed the continued deployment of effective strategies to combat Covid-19.

The Health Minister updated us on the targeted expansion plan for asymptomatic testing as part of the UK-wide programme.

This will include testing at a community level, with a particular focus on Council areas with stubbornly high numbers of cases. This will help us understand, identify and address any localized issues.

It is also intended that the testing roll-out will include our emergency services, Translink, national critical services, food supply and other industry.

We welcome this development, which together with the continued success of the vaccination programme, gives us new and more effective ways to combat this virus.

Again, we have the benefit of being part of the UK mission to protect lives, which is world-class.

Almost all care homes have now had a second visit, reflected in the decreased numbers of outbreaks in these settings.

Yesterday’s figures showed 361,430 vaccines in total had been deployed, to 333,658 individuals.

By the weekend, one quarter of all adults in Northern Ireland will have had a dose of the vaccine. That’s excellent progress, and a significant milestone.

The next large group to be vaccinated is expected to be the clinically vulnerable, and the Department of Health is considering how this large cohort should be prioritised.

So many families now have the reassurance that their loved ones are no longer so vulnerable to the virus.

(When my Mother was vaccinated I know my family was so grateful for the protection this provided, and the greater peace of mind it has brought.)

This is where we as an Executive are focusing our efforts, with some success.

But we also need every person to play their part to the full, with us.

This is the time to really push on, to use the advantage we now have to push infection rates down as far as we can.

Next week is a key decision point for us.

When we review the Regulations on February 18, we need to see the numbers as low as possible, so that we can safely plan for gradually emerging from lockdown.

We all want to see an end to restrictions, but we must approach this with care, so we do not lose the gains we have made.

Over the last few weeks our clear message has been about saving lives and easing the pressure on our healthcare.

The current figures give us some confidence that we can plan for the period ahead. To gradually restore a degree of normality to lives and livelihoods.

We have always said that we will not keep any restriction in place for a moment longer than it needs to be there.

So we are asking you to stay with us.

To keep following the public health advice – stay at home as much as possible; limit your contacts, wear face coverings and keep washing your hands.

Stay safe.