The national COVID-19 lockdown in Northern Ireland has been extended to the 5th of March, First Minister Arlene Foster has confirmed
Stormont health minister Robin Swann proposed the move to help drive down case numbers.
And the plan was agreed following a meeting of the devolved government.
Ms Foster said there would be a review of the situation on the 18th of February.
An extended lockdown in the country with the closing of non-essential retailers, as well as keeping schools shut to most pupils and encouraging employees to work from home began across Northern Ireland after Christmas.
Family gatherings are prohibited and police enforcement has now been stepped up and although the rocketing tally of new case numbers has begun to ease off, hospitals are struggling.
They are expected to face even greater pressures by this weekend due to the lag between infection and serious illness developing.
This comes after around two-thirds residents of elderly care homes have had a COVID-19 vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs. The government has set a deadline of the 15th of February for offering the first dose of a vaccine to 15 million of the most vulnerable people.
Ms Foster told a press conference after the meeting: “Following a detailed outline from health, highlighting continuing pressures on hospitals and intensive care units and the emergence of highly-transmissible variants the Executive has agreed that the restrictions will be extended for four weeks.”
Asked if it was likely for the lockdown to be extended to Easter, Ms Foster said: “We have to be proportionate and we have to only do what is necessary.”
Deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill added: “We know we are asking a lot of everybody.
“To be very honest with the public, we don’t know what will come after that… we did discuss as an Executive today the fact that there may well need to be further restrictions but it will depend on what we all do now.”
“It’s within our control in terms of our own behaviours around what we do in the next number of weeks to try and prevent that being the case.”
“There is no doubt there are better days ahead but we need to keep working together.”
CBI Northern Ireland Director, Angela McGowan, said: “News that the Northern Ireland-wide lockdown will be extended is understandable given the worryingly high prevalence of the virus.”
“While this comes as little surprise to business, the economic damage cannot be underestimated.”
She urged the UK government to look into extending the successful Job Retention Scheme to the end of June “to protect jobs and livelihoods at risk”.
And she added: “Governments across the UK and Republic of Ireland must work together on fuelling the much-needed economic recovery.”
This comes after the UK’s vaccines minister has said that he is hoping to target key workers in the country such as police officers, shop workers and teachers in the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
A further 21 more people who tested positive for COVID-19 within Northern Ireland have now died.
Another 732 new cases of the coronavirus have also been detected on Thursday, according to the Department of Health .
There are 806 COVID-positive patients in hospitals in Northern Ireland, with 70 in intensive care.