Justice Minister Naomi Long has said she has never been as sick as she was earlier this year with what she believes was Covid-19.
The Alliance leader missed her party’s conference, with a CT scan revealing she had a partially collapsed lung.
Mrs Long said she had no persistent cough, but had a high temperature, chest pain and difficulty breathing.
“I was quite ill for about two weeks – I have to say it was nothing like the flu,” she told BBC NI’s The View.
“What did start to worry me was the lag after that because for the next three to four months I suffered from exhaustion, I was finding it very difficult still to breathe and it was really quite challenging to get the full recovery.”
She said she was referred back to a clinic for a test of her lungs and was told it probably was a form of Covid that she had, consistent with what is referred to as “long Covid”.
“I think if you have any of the symptoms you should be isolating, getting a test and taking it seriously,” Mrs Long said.
“Don’t wait until you have all the symptoms, because you might never develop all of the symptoms.
“I was not aware that I had been exposed, I wasn’t aware that I had it and I was never tested for it at the time.
“But I’m pretty sure given the symptoms that’s what it may have been.”
‘Catch themselves on’
Mrs Long said anyone who thinks Covid-19 is “just the flu needs to catch themselves on”.
She added: “I have had the flu before, I have had pneumonia before, I have never been as sick as I was at the start of the year, in March.
“If you’re out there and you think Covid isn’t real I can tell you it is.
“I know other people who have had it too and, sadly, I know people who have died as a result of contracting Covid.
“So I would really appeal to people, take this seriously for your own sake for your family’s sake and for the sake of the community.
“And if you don’t care about yourself, spare a thought for those who are genuinely vulnerable.”
On Thursday, the executive announced people in Northern Ireland caught breaching coronavirus regulations will now face a minimum fine of £200 under plans agreed by the executive.
First Minister Arlene Foster also confirmed that the use of mandatory face coverings in NI is to be extended.
A further 923 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were reported by the Department of Health on Thursday. In the last seven days, 4,674 people in Northern Ireland have tested positive.
The department also confirmed the death of another person who died following a positive test, bringing its death toll to 587.
There are 120 people with Covid-19 in hospital – 15 are in intensive care.
You can watch The View’s full interview with Justice Minister Naomi Long on the BBC iPlayer.