Covid-19 does not follow a pre-planned roadmap, health minister says
Health Minister Robin Swann says the north is on a "clear path to better times".
Addressing his weekly media conference, Robin Swann said data on the prevalence of the virus and vaccine rollout figures were "positive".
"Our approach - which is firmly based on the principle of based on cautious optimism - is producing dividends," he said.
"We expect the programme to be even busier in the coming weeks, with supplies of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine scheduled to increase very significantly," he said.
"The vaccination programme will be scaled up accordingly and plans to that effect are being finalised this week."
Robin Swann said he understood the frustration created by the lack of dates in Northern Ireland's lockdown exit strategy.
"I totally understand the frustration that we cannot move faster out of lockdown or be more definitive about the pathway out of lockdown," he said.
"As I've stressed before, I would rather maintain steady pace than charge for the exit door and fall over. There is too much at risk - both in terms of people's health but also how much more uncertainty our businesses could ever be expected to face.
"The time for definitive dates will come. Of course it will. But some of those demanding a calendar-led approach now would be the first to shout if we gave them dates and then had to alter them because of the progression of the pandemic. This virus is not predictable. It does not follow a pre-planned route map.
"Likewise, I would love to be able to announce a simple mathematical formula on how the data will determine all our decisions.
"There are too many complexities and uncertainties. We cannot offer people false assurance."
The health minister also expressed concern at evidence of increased reporting of mental health problems.
"This has been an incredibly difficult twelve months - unprecedented in living memory," he said.
"In the space of a year so many people listening have experienced fear, financial concerns, bereavement, but also optimism and a deep sense of pride and sense of unity through our community solidarity.
"That rollercoaster of emotions has for some undoubtedly triggered mental health conditions or exacerbated existing ones.
"My department continues to monitor closely the impacts of Covid on a range of mental health indicators.
"Worryingly, we are seeing increasing mental health presentations and an increased level of acuity in mental health services, so it's important that we have the services in place to meet that demand.
"That is a message I really want to make today - if you need support, or if you know of someone who does - please come forward."
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said there was increasing evidence on the extent to which vaccines limited the transmission of Covid-19.
He stressed the importance of maximising vaccination rates.
"It is the breakthrough we were all hoping for and it's the breakthrough we were all working for in the very darkest months of this pandemic," he said.
"Yes, it will permanently change the impact of the virus and increasingly lessen our dependence on some of the measures we currently have in place and all of the consequences of those measures."