Mr Middleton said: “Over the last number of weeks and months we have consistently highlighted the need for a balanced and proportionate approach to tackling Covid-19.
“Whilst lockdowns will slow the spread of Covid-19, they have huge repercussions for jobs and livelihoods, but also for wider society, including other aspects of public health.
“Doing nothing however is equally not an option given increasing numbers of people being hospitalised through Covid-19 and pressure particularly on key areas such as ICU provision.
“The need for such balance was why we pushed back hard against any idea that there should be a six-week lockdown. It is why we have ensured that the current restrictions cannot be extended without specific Executive approval.
“We urge people to respect and abide by the restrictions that have been imposed in the attempt to safeguard against the immediate health crisis in such a way that protects as much as possible against the terrible long-term health crisis caused by economic devastation, job losses and increased poverty.
“There are no simple answers facing the Executive when decisions are to be taken.
“It is the job of scientists to provide advice, but it is for Ministers from five different political parties to agree a proportionate and balanced package of measures which can protect lives and livelihoods.
“Central to that package is the scaling up of our hospitals to cope with increased pressures from Covid-19.
“Every element of society in Northern Ireland must adapt to live with this virus for some time to come, but most particularly our healthcare system.
“That means more ICU beds, more ICU staff alongside more a test, track and trace system which has greater capacity and which produces more detailed data. We cannot allow other lifesaving treatments to be stalled.
“This is the challenge of our generation and we must work together to get through it.
“There must be a collective focus on tackling the health and economic crisis we face in both the short and long-term.”