Eight more people with coronavirus have died in Northern Ireland in the last 24 hours, according to data released on Thursday by the North's Department of Health (DoH).
It brings the total number of fatalities recorded by the department to 688.
A further 822 new cases of Covid-19 were identified, out of a total of 5,947 cases in the North in the last seven days. So far 37,216 people have tested positive for the virus in Northern Ireland since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Northern Executive met on Thursday to consider the impact of the coronavirus restrictions on limiting the spread of the virus.
Speaking at a press conference at Stormont after the meeting, First Minister Arlene Foster said there were "green shoots of hope" and there was a "steadying" of the number of people being diagnosed with the virus.
For the first time, she said, the R rate for case numbers has “dropped below one for the first time since the early summer”, and it was below one in ten out of eleven council areas.
Minister for Finance Conor Murphy also announced a further Covid support package of £687m additional funding, which includes £560m for the North's health service.
It also includes over £61m for the reopening of schools on Monday, and £19m to provide financial assistance to the taxi, private bus and coach sector.
An extra £100m has been held in reserve for what the minister described as “targeted support by the Executive in the coming weeks and months”.
Department of Health data on Thursday showed 361 people with Covid-19 were receiving treatment in hospital, with 44 of them in intensive care.
According to the department, 19 intensive care beds are still available, however hospital capacity is running at 99 per cent, with only 20 beds available in total, and some hospitals operating at over-capacity.
However, Ms Foster rejected reports that there were concerns over the availability of oxygen at Altnagelvin hospital in Derry, saying that the Minister for Health had given an assurance “there isn’t an issue around oxygen”.
Meanwhile, the father of 17-year-old Aaron Doherty from Derry, who died earlier this week after previously testing positive for Covid-19, said he did not want his son remembered as the youngest person to die of coronavirus in the North.
"We got all these headlines about him dying of Covid-19," Jim Doherty told the BBC. "At the time of Aaron's death he was Covid negative, and we were told that he had heart failure."
On Wednesday the department’s daily coronavirus dashboard recorded nine people who had died with the virus in the preceding 24 hours, including one individual aged between 0 and 19 years old – the first time this has happened in the North.
The data includes all individuals who have died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.
It is understood Aaron had tested positive for coronavirus some weeks ago, but subsequently tested negative. He had underlying health conditions and suffered from a medical condition, which Mr Doherty said the family was “very sure” had contributed to his death.
“I don’t want him remembered as a statistic of the youngest person who died of Covid when he didn’t,” Mr Doherty said. “Aaron wouldn’t have wanted this media circus, he loved his life and that’s how I want him remembered, as the happy, smiling young fella he was.”
Meanwhile, a legal challenge by a group representing close contact workers in the hair and beauty industry was dismissed in a Belfast court earlier on Thursday.
The sector was among those closed by the Executive for four weeks to attempt to halt the rate of coronavirus infection in the North.
Traders claimed it was an arbitrary and disproportionate step taken with no proper explanation which has put jobs at risk and indirectly discriminated against women working in the sector.
But Mr Justice McAlinden ruled that they had no chance of succeeding in the challenge amid unprecedented efforts to fight a “recalcitrant” virus.
He said: “Under no circumstances could it be said that the actions of the Executive in promoting this wide-ranging, overarching response, with a view to achieving the absolutely necessary aim of combating this infection, could be described as being manifestly without reasonable foundation or justification.”