The Northern Ireland Executive has said it will not be swayed from its path in tackling the second wave of Covid-19 as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a four-week lockdown for England.
Thousands of pupils return to the classroom this week at the end of an extended midterm break after the North's Department of Health announced a further eight deaths and 685 new cases.
Virologist at Queen's University Belfast Dr Connor Bamford warned that the next two weeks would be crucial in determining whether the Executive's schools 'experiment' has worked.
"Over the next two weeks we are likely to see the number of deaths push up," he warned, "but the hope is that the restrictions have been put in place in good time.
"We've already started to see a decline in the number of cases and that's positive. It shows the restrictions put in place seem to be working.
"It's always better to react early to drive down the rate of infection.
"England was the only one of the four nations [of the UK] not to do so, so they've had to go in with stronger restrictions over a longer period.
"I would hope Northern Ireland will not need to go down that path, but the next two weeks will be critical.
"We will have schools returning and as yet there's no definite indication on how much schools affected the rise in the rate of infections."
After First Minister Arlene Foster said Northern Ireland must adapt to coexist with the virus, a spokesperson for the Executive Office added: "The Executive has taken steps to curb the spread of coronavirus through a four-week period of significant interventions.
"The impacts of these measures on the course of the epidemic are being monitored, and ministers will consider any developments when the Executive meets in the coming week."
Mid-Ulster, Belfast and Derry continue to be the worst affected areas.
The pressure on the North's health system has now reached a critical level, with Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry and Belfast City Hospital both having no ICU bed capacity left. Two other hospitals, the Mater and Ulster Hospitals, are now operating beyond capacity in overall beds occupied.