The third surge of Covid-19 cases is expected in the middle of January, the chair of NI’s British Medical Association (BMA) has said.
Dr Tom Black warned that more cases of a new variant of coronavirus are likely to be seen in the next few weeks, as is now happening in parts of England.
But he said that as more people are vaccinated, there should be some improvement in February and March.
It comes as 14 further Covid-19-related deaths have been recorded in NI.
Thirteen of those deaths occurred from Monday while the other death happened on another date.
It takes the Department of Health’s total to 1,305.
A further 1,566 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the past 24 hours.
“We would expect to see a peak of hospital admissions and demands in probably the second and third week in January,” Dr Black told BBC News NI.
“Hopefully we will keep the pressure off the intensive care units because that’s a real bottleneck with patient care and with the vaccination hopefully we’ll see some improvement in February and March.”
Roisin Coulter, the lead director for the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine programme for the South Eastern Trust, said the rollout “has given us hope for managing the third surge of Covid which we all know is going to come in mid-January”.
“This is one of the key enablers to help us protect the most vulnerable, our patients and our clients and our staff, therefore hopefully reducing the demand on our hospital services.”
On Monday, Health Minister Robin Swann warned the public that house parties to mark New Year’s Eve could be “super-spreader” events for coronavirus.
Northern Ireland is currently in a six-week lockdown, with strict restrictions in place.
During the first week of the lockdown, which started on 26 December, no gatherings – indoor or outdoor – are permitted between 20:00 GMT and 06:00 each day.
Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland, 79-year-old Annie Lynch has become the first person in the country to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
The grandmother of 10, from Dublin, said she was “very privileged” and felt like “there is a bit of hope there now”, Irish national broadcaster RTÉ reported.