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We are standing today on the Hill of O’Neill in the heart of Ulster, to appeal to everyone to keep fighting with us to push down the curve of infection.

Over the last few weeks we have, through our collective effort, driven down the R rate for cases from 1.8 to just above [1.1].

That has been achieved by so many taking personal responsibility and doing the right thing.

And it’s the simple and everyday choices that are making a big difference.

It’s deciding to phone or facetime our friends and family rather than visiting.

It’s doing one quick big shop, not nipping in and out for a couple of items.

It’s doing the best job you can at home, not going into a workplace when you don’t have to.

It’s attending an online service, not going to church, however much not gathering in person feels alien to us.

And it’s supporting children’s education at the kitchen table and not at school.

I want to thank each and every person who has made difficult but positive choices.

And also to thank the many retailers, employers, faith leaders and teachers, along with so many right across society, who are working hard to make it possible for people to stay at home.

But I appreciate the cost these restrictions are having. I appreciate the weariness. We are all sick and tired of the restrictions but we must do it to get through it.

And we are.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine is rolling out and at a great rate. We can see a route back to normality but it will take months to get there.

Today I express special thanks to everyone who works in our hospitals. There was an all-hands-on-deck call made at the weekend and the response was overwhelming. The men and women of our NHS have and continue to be the heroes of this pandemic.

To the children and parents at home today tuned in to this statement, I know the young people are missing out on friends and learning in the classrooms, or in the science labs, or the technology workshop, and as parents you are spinning the plates of a job, a parent and a teacher.

By working together, staying at home, reducing our contacts and stopping the spread, we will be able to get children safely back into school, get businesses safely reopened and protect our hospitals.

But unfortunately, we are becoming aware of some employers and business owners who are requiring staff to attend the workplace when they could work from home or the business should not be open at all.

Such a selfish spirit is not going to help us beat the virus and keep people safe.

And for those who say “but someone else is doing it”, as my mother used to say “if they put their hand in the fire, would you?”

Let’s be sensible and work together.

We need everyone to get on board with the spirit and the letter of the law.

And this is vitally important as our health care teams are currently engaged in their biggest battle in this pandemic so far.

They have fought the good fight over 11 long months to care for the thousands of patients with Covid and other serious conditions.

And although exhausted they are keeping going in the face of rising patient numbers.

We also need to keep going, so that this period of pressure is as short as it can be.

We must actively do all we can to prevent infection from spreading and to stop a fresh wave of cases.

I’m pleased to see that our vaccination programme is rolling out speedily. The Minister for Health has told us today that we are currently one of the top performing countries in the world per head of population. This gives us all immense hope for the coming weeks and months.

But we are not there yet, so in the meantime we must keep following all of the regulations to the letter. And we will be meeting with the Chief Constable after this press conference to further discuss adherence and enforcement issues.

I am asking everyone to follow the public health advice by limiting your contacts, keeping to the social distancing rules, wearing a face covering and washing your hands frequently and well.

Please stay at home and play your part to save lives and protect our health services.