Members of the military are to be deployed to help medical staff cope with the pandemic in Northern Ireland.
More than 100 medically trained technicians will provide nursing support in badly stretched hospital wards as the health system faces the peak of a wave of coronavirus-related hospital admissions.
Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said: "Our hospitals are under immense pressure and an additional staffing complement will be very welcome on the frontline.
"This is a health decision and I am confident it will be supported on that basis."
Mr Swann said he made the formal request for extra help last week when it was made known that a number of medical technicians were available.
Mr Swann pointed out the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has previously provided assistance, transporting seriously ill patients by air to England and giving logistical advice.
"I sincerely hope this will not be viewed as a divisive decision because I can assure it is not,” he told an Executive press conference.
"The Armed Forces have medical expertise and it would have been an abdication of responsibility on my part if we didn’t avail of that."
Use of the Army has prompted tensions in the past in Northern Ireland, although personnel have previously helped out with weather-related incidents.
The health minister added: "I welcome this agreement, which comes at a particularly challenging and critical period for our health service.
"The Armed Forces have provided invaluable support in this pandemic, including aeromedical evacuation, real-estate and ongoing logistical planning.
"I thank the MOD for this support and for this timely Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) agreement finalised today."
Wednesday saw a further 22 deaths of patients who tested positive for coronavirus in Northern Ireland, as well as another 905 new cases.
Mr Swann said that while he hopes the peak of hospital admissions has been hit, he warned the number of patients needing critical care is likely to increase further.
A Government spokesperson said: "The Ministry of Defence will be supporting a request from Northern Ireland’s Department of Health for military support to be provided to frontline healthcare staff.
"110 Defence medics will be embedded into Health and Social Care Trusts, working under the supervision of doctors and nurses to help relieve the pressure on the health services."