Stormont Executive ministers have a duty to keep coronavirus infection rates low, Robin Swann warned.
Doctors have pressed for the lockdown of the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland to be extended beyond next week.
Hoteliers have warned the hiatus is doing enormous economic harm.
The North's Health Minister said he hoped ministerial colleagues would make a decision early next week and acknowledged decline in some of the Covid numbers.
He said: “For our health and social care workers, our older people, our other clinically vulnerable citizens and society as a whole we all have an obligation to do all that we can to push down infection rates and keep them low.
“That’s a duty on us all as individuals in our daily lives and on those of us making decisions around the Executive table.
“This week I submitted a paper to the Executive, informed by the latest medical and scientific advice, and I hope that early next week a decision can be made.
“If we do not take action we almost certainly will have to intervene more significantly if we are to avoid our health service being overwhelmed.”
A hospitality chief has called for an end to the inflammatory rhetoric around the reopening of the sector.
Janice Gault said the industry had been demonised as the debate continues around whether to lift shutters next week.
The Stormont Executive is due to make a decision by Monday.
The Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) chief executive said: “The challenges of the unfolding health and economic crisis brings to the fore the difficulties facing the hospitality sector.
“There have been many inflammatory statements, with the hospitality sector firmly pitched against the health mandate.”
With one week of the four-week circuit-break to go, Arlene Foster said the reproductive rate of the virus has dropped to an estimated 0.7.
Mrs Foster indicated discussions would continue over the weekend, with a decision to be announced early next week.
Mr Swann said this winter will undoubtedly be a tough slog.
“I will not sugarcoat the situation nor offer false hope or assurance.
“There are no quick fixes, easy solutions or overarching strategies that are going to make this virus go away.
“My priority will be to ensure that the health service is not overwhelmed, with all the consequences that will entail.”
He said he shared the concerns voiced by other Assembly members about economic consequences of this pandemic.
“The Executive rightly has to consider all potential interventions in the round, taking into account the full societal implications.
“We are taking the most difficult and complex decisions of our political lives.”
He said it was his duty to stand up for the health service.
“It should always be remembered that an overwhelmed health service would be detrimental to our economy and society.
“We can all play our part in avoiding that nightmare and I am confident that we will.”