Northern Ireland is currently facing one of the most dangerous points of the Covid-19 pandemic, Health Minister Robin Swann has warned.
Mr Swann also said he was concerned that some people had stopped following even the most basic guidance.
There have been 194 positive cases in NI in the last week.
Forty-eight cases were recorded on Tuesday and the current per day average is 27, compared to three per day at one stage last month.
“We’re probably now at one of the most dangerous, if not riskiest, points in time of this pandemic,” Mr Swann told BBC NI’s Talkback.
“If we get this wrong now, if we don’t keep our controls in place, if we don’t see the people of Northern Ireland actually have respect for the guidance and regulations, we could see a further increase of Covid outbreaks, more hospitalisations, more people going into ICU and unfortunately more deaths.”
The health minister said he was concerned that complacency was setting in among some people.
“We’re starting to see people taking a step back even from some of the basic guidance that we were putting out – watch your distance, washing your hands and now face coverings as well,” he said.
“I’m asking for people in Northern Ireland just to re-engage with the guidance that was put there, so we can prevent a serious increase in the number of cases in the coming weeks and months.”
Mr Swann said health authorities had expected to see an increase in cases at some point, but the “significant increase that we saw over the weekend and especially yesterday” was worrying.
“But more concerning to us as well is the number of hospitalisations,” he added.
“When we start to see an increase in hospitalisations that’s when the alarm bells start to ring.”
In total, 557 people have died of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland and there have been 6,188 confirmed cases.
On Monday, it became compulsory to wear face coverings in NI shops.
A day later, Belfast Royal Academy became the first school in Northern Ireland to make face coverings mandatory.
Mr Swann said he did not want to pre-empt guidance due to be issued by the Department of Education, but said his department did see the benefits of face coverings in locations where social distancing and other measures cannot be put in place.
The health minister also said he would like to see executive daily Covid briefings on the pandemic to be reinstated.
“All the asks that we were making from the people of Northern Ireland, they were being listened to, they were being heard and I would like to see that collective voice be reinstated,” he said.