Following the public health advice has never mattered so much, Stormont’s First Minister said.
The reproductive rate of coronavirus is approaching 1.8, with the number diagnosed every day nearing 2,000.
The peak in admissions to Northern Ireland’s crowded hospitals is envisaged during the last fortnight of this month.
Arlene Foster said: “We will be asking everyone to help us get through the next period of time by complying with the public health messaging and by adhering to the full range of restrictions because it has never mattered so much.”
Schools will close in most cases, with youngsters to be taught via remote learning.
Many exams have been cancelled.
I welcome decision by the Education Minister to cancel exams – all GCSE, AS & A2 exams due to take place in January, February, May & June will be cancelled.
Work will continue on alternative awarding arrangements.
The needs & well-being of young people must always be a priority pic.twitter.com/W4wjuK7pVB
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) January 6, 2021
The DUP leader added: “We’re also asking schools, teachers, parents, children and the wider education community to take very difficult steps now.
“We have been there before and we have won, and we’ve made it a priority to avoid impacting on schools again unless it was absolutely vital to do so.
“Unfortunately it’s not possible to protect the health service and keep people safe without taking steps now with schools.”
She said the health situation was grave and the Executive’s decisions around extra restrictions were essential.
“We have to make space for the health service to deal with the serious rise in case numbers, and as always we pay tribute to everything that our health and social care colleagues are engaged with to keep us safe and to save lives.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said children had been under pressure over the last year and denied the opportunity to mix with their peers.
She claimed many had been “left hanging” and not knowing if they will have to sit transfer tests for grammar schools.
Ms O’Neill confirmed the new measures would include remote learning for schools, limited contact in domestic settings and statutory measures to support the stay-at-home message.
“Our priorities remain unchanged, we are committing to saving lives, protecting our health service from being overwhelmed and doing all that we can to reduce the spread of this deadly virus,” she said.