Stormont ministers will discuss whether to impose a curfew on NI’s hospitality sector when they meet later.
There is an expectation in the hospitality industry that operating rules will be tightened further.
In the rest of the UK, pubs and restaurants must close at 22:00 BST. In the Republic of Ireland it is 23:30.
The situation in NI is further complicated as off-licences and supermarkets can sell alcohol until 23:00 most days.
The cut-off is 22:00 on Sundays.
It is understood that imposing a curfew earlier than 23:00 could mean changing legislation around NI’s current licensing laws.
Ministers will consider the evidence and options from the chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride on Thursday afternoon.
If ministers agree to bring in a curfew it is unclear when it would take effect, as the move will require new legislation.
On Wednesday, First Minister Arlene Foster said the executive did not want to “displace people from pubs into house parties”.
Hospitality industry representatives have called on the executive to agree to a curfew of 23:30.
Colin Neill, of Hospitality Ulster, said the 90-minute time difference would affect many businesses.
“In reality, it is 50-70% of an already reduced income and will reduce staff hours or the need to bring staff back off furlough,” he said.
“We would ask that the NI Executive listens to the heartfelt plea of the sector and chooses a 23:30 closure time if a curfew is imposed, to give some chance to those who have had such an awful time in the last number of months.”
Meanwhile, the leaders of Stormont’s four pro-EU parties will travel to Dublin on Thursday morning for Brexit meetings with the Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney.
They will discuss their opposition to Downing Street’s Internal Market Bill.
The proposed legislation, which would break international law, has been described by Number 10 as a safety net, in case talks to work out details of the Northern Ireland Protocol fail.
On Tuesday, the Stormont Assembly voted to reject the bill – but it is not binding.
Sinn Féin’s vice-president and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Alliance leader Naomi Long will take part in the discussions with Mr Coveney, along with SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and NI Greens leader Clare Bailey, before returning to Stormont to take part in Thursday’s executive meeting.
At the executive meeting, some ministers are also expected to raise the issue of recent school closures due to the spread of the virus.
On Wednesday, Holy Cross College in Strabane said it had closed due to a number of cases in the school community.
It is possible ministers could also discuss a paper from Finance Minister Conor Murphy which seeks to approve bids from a number of Stormont departments for Covid-19 funding.
Last week, Mr Murphy said his paper had been blocked from the agenda.
It is understood the finance minister was in discussions with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) earlier this week about reaching agreement to allow the proposals to be raised at Thursday’s meeting.