Every person in Scotland has played their part in this national endeavour
Tackling COVID-19 has truly been a national endeavour, with every person in Scotland playing their part.
Scotland’s key workers – especially in our NHS and social care services, but also including our supermarket staff, police officers, cleaners, delivery drivers and those working in public transport – have all worked day and night to keep the country safe and moving.
Restaurants, theatres, gyms and other businesses and organisations closed their doors to save lives – the financial impact of that cannot be underestimated, but they acted for the common good.
Teachers and pupils swapped the classrooms for online lessons.
Dancers and musicians traded the stage for a screen, projecting their performances into our living rooms in very different ways to normal.
In fact, every single one of us has had to adapt our lives to help suppress the virus and for that, each and every person in Scotland has my eternal gratitude.
These past few months have been extremely difficult, but these efforts mean we have made significant and sustained progress in suppressing COVID-19.
Together, we have built a strong foundation that is now allowing us to carefully and cautiously reopen sectors of the economy and start to lift some of the limits on seeing friends and family that we have all had to live with these last few months.
We can now enjoy outdoor hospitality such as pavement cafes and beer gardens, go shopping on local high street, and travel a bit further from our homes and take walks in other parts of our beautiful country.
Young children aged 11 and under can now play with each other outdoors as they would have done before – without physical distancing – and hug their grandparents too, as long as they stay outside.
I hope to announce some more changes to restrictions later this week.
I know the huge and meaningful difference these changes can make to the quality of our lives – and the fact is that they are only possible now because of how careful we have been over the past few months.
And we will only be able to move further forward if we all keep being very careful.
Although we have driven case numbers right down, the virus has not gone away. It will bounce back if we give it the chance. We need to be acutely mindful of that.
For businesses, that means taking precautions to protect workers and customers.
Government, trade unions and businesses have worked to ensure that suitable guidance is in place to ensure that people can be kept safe.
This means businesses have to put in place a range of measure aimed at ensuring the safety of staff, customers and the public – these might include floor markings to help with physical distancing, apps to order food and drink remotely, and Perspex screens at checkout points.
There is no doubt that going to buy clothes or having a drink in a beer garden will feel different to the experience of just a few months ago, but rather than feeling daunted by these measures we should take confidence in them – they are there to protect us, and they mean we can shop and eat safely.
Of course the responsibility to stop the spread of the virus not only lies with the businesses – we all have a role to play.
Even though we have successfully suppressed the virus to low levels, if we are to keep it that way we all have to take appropriate care when we are out and about.
It is now more important than ever before that we follow all public health advice rigorously.
Face coverings can reduce the risk of us passing on the virus to others – they are now mandatory on public transport, and they will also become mandatory in shops from 10th July – the expected start of phase 3. So everyone should make sure they wear one.
You should avoid crowded areas too – so if you’re visiting parks, beaches or rural areas and find them busy you should go elsewhere. And we should all respect the areas we do visit – be sensitive to people living in our rural areas and don’t leave litter behind.
Cleaning our hands thoroughly and regularly remains one of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of the virus, as does keeping at least 2 metres physical distance from people outwith your household.
If you do experience symptoms of COVID-19, you should self-isolate and immediately book a test through NHS Inform. And if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus, you should isolate if asked to do so by Test & Protect.
It is only because so many of us have stuck to the rules so far that we can move forward out of lockdown.
And it is only if we keep sticking to the rules that we will be able to drive the virus down even further and reopen many other areas of life and the economy in the weeks and months ahead.
The prize that comes from all of this hard work will be worth it – a safe return to normal life.