There have been eight further Covid-19 linked deaths in the last 24-hour reporting period in Northern Ireland and 896 new cases of the virus, the Department of Health has announced.

The death toll recorded by the department now stands at 653.

There have been 34,105 confirmed cases in Northern Ireland.

There are currently 317 patients with Covid-19 being treated in hospital, with 37 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the Communities Minister has said the Covid-19 reproduction (R) number would "ideally" need to drop below one before schools reopen.

Carál Ní Chuilín said the R value, which is the average number of people an infected person will pass the virus on to, was between 1.4 and 1.6 when the Executive made the decision to close schools for two weeks.

Ms Ní Chuilín, who is self-isolating at home after a family member tested positive for Covid-19, also warned about the behaviour of some when leaving and collecting pupils at school.

Schools are to open again on 2 November following an extended mid-term break.

Ms Ní Chuilín was asked whether the Executive has set a R value target before reopening schools.

"Ideally we need to get it below one," she told BBC's The View programme.

"The measures schools staff have adhered to have been great but we need to look at behaviour when we are dropping kids off and picking kids up.

"I know that schools have done their best but the issue is still with us. Today we have over 30 people in intensive care fighting for their lives.

"When we made those decisions there were 26 people. We still have a big job of work and we need to get that R rate down."

She added, however, that it is the Executive's intention to keep schools open.

"However, given the statistics, and behind those statistics are families who have been impacted by Covid, we need to ensure we get our medical and scientific advice and evidence," she added.

"Regrettably that's the position we have been in.

"Let me assure everyone it is our intention to keep schools open and lessen the restrictions as the numbers of people impacted by Covid decrease."

Ms Ní Chuilín reiterated comments made by Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, who said that a potential extension of the four-week circuit-break lockdown cannot be taken off the table.

The minister said it was a "sensible" approach.

"We are dealing with a pandemic and none of us across the world know what is ahead of us other than, through our own behaviour and changes in our customs and practices, we can try keep this virus at bay and try to restrict the potency of this virus," she added.

While the current regulations do not prevent fans attending elite sporting events in limited numbers, Ms Ní Chuilín repeated her calls for fans not to attend football games.

The GAA has stopped spectators attending games, while Ulster Rugby will also play its home games behind closed doors until Stormont reviews the measures again in mid-November.

However, Irish FA has allowed spectators to attend Northern Ireland matches.

The minister made another plea to the IFA to play their games behind closed doors.