The Northern Ireland Executive has decided to extend the current lockdown restrictions until 5th March, prompting reactions from churches across the country.
The lockdown, which began on boxing day last year, has no firm end date due to the unpredictability of the virus, according to the government.
Speaking to Radio Ulster on Friday, health Minister Robin Swann said he could not commit to the total easing of lockdown restrictions in March, noting that some measures may remain in place until after the Easter holidays.
"Can I say that'll we'll have to extend them at that point [5 March]? At this time, no I can't," he said.
"But it would, I think, be unrealistic to think that we'd be able to lift every restriction come that date because we do see where this virus is going, the trajectory it's taking, the large number of positive cases that we are managing but also the large number of hospital admissions that we currently have."
Swann added that there "has to be a consideration and planning put into place" to deal with the virus moving forward.
"We know Covid's going to be with us for a very long time," he said. "We also know it will take time for our vaccination process to kick in and have that major effect."
The leading church denominations have continued to agree with the scientific advice, suspending services and instructing parishioners to say home until the end of lockdown.
The Church of Ireland, the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland, have all agreed on similar positions.
Rev Trevor Gribben, the Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, said:
“In the light of this decision, and on the basis of the unequivocal public health advice that people should continue to stay at home, the General Council Standing Committee of our Church, has directed that all in person Sunday gatherings for worship, along with all other in person church gatherings across our congregations in Northern Ireland, should remain suspended until Friday, 5 March.”
The Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland said:
"On the basis of the clear and unequivocal public health advice that people should continue to stay at home, the Northern Catholic Bishops have decided that, until 5 March (but subject to ongoing review in line with any change to the public health advice), the celebration of the Eucharist and other liturgies should continue to take place without the physical presence of the faithful."
The Church of Ireland Bishops in Northern Ireland said:
"On the basis of the clear and unequivocal public health advice that people should continue to stay at home, we have decided that all in-person Sunday gatherings for worship, along with all other in-person church gatherings, should remain suspended in all Church of Ireland parishes in Northern Ireland until Friday, 5th March 2021."
The Methodist Church in Ireland said:
"In light of the clear, unequivocal and continuing public health advice that people should stay at home and the Northern Ireland Executive’s unanimous decision to extend the Covid-19 restrictions, the Methodist Church in Ireland has made the decision that the current suspension of all in church gatherings should continue."
Exceptions will be made for weddings, funerals, arrangements for recording and/or live-streaming, drive-in services and private prayer, as per the government guidelines.