This is our chance to build a better Scotland together

It is important to be clear at the outset that the current lockdown remains vital – it is only because of it, that we are now seeing some progress against the virus. And these restrictions may need to continue in the current form beyond this three-week period.

And when lockdown in its most severe form does start to be eased, it is likely that the process will be a very slow and gradual one, with only “baby steps” to start with. The virus is not going to magically disappear, so our challenge is to find a way to live alongside it – to continue to suppress it, while restoring some normality to our lives. That will not be easy.

That’s why this week I spoke about the search for a “new normal”. A way in which we, as a society, can live alongside coronavirus in a way that keeps it under control and limits the damage that is does.

This new normal will be very different from the lives we had before. Physical distancing and limiting our contact with others will be a fact of life for a long time to come. That is the unavoidable reality: we are going to have to learn to live with Covid-19.

We will all have to adjust to that, certainly until treatments and, ultimately, a vaccine can provide us with an alternative way forward.

What I am sure of is that if we keep doing the right things, there will be a way through – and I am also confident we can because of the compassion, determination and expertise of the people of Scotland.

These strengths will help see us move through this crisis, and come out the other side. We will make that journey based on our common values, our principles and the best scientific knowledge.

But as we make that journey, difficult and challenging as it will be, we can also start to talk about our destination.

When things come apart – when the kaleidoscope of our lives is shaken – there is an opportunity to see them put back together differently, and see a new way of doing things.

And we can start to think together, and work together, to decide the kind of Scotland we want to emerge from this crisis.

We still all face major challenges. Challenges in navigating the uncertainties that the virus has created, as well as rebuilding our economy and public services.

But we can go further than rebuilding, and look seriously at social and economic reform.

Before this crisis, we were focused on our mission of making Scotland a greener, fairer and more prosperous country. That has not changed. But the place from where we are starting has.

I have spoken before about the fundamental conversations we should be having in our society. What do we value in the communities that we live in, and what kind of country, and what kind of society do we really want to be? We have talked about the importance of promoting wellbeing. Those considerations seem ever more important now.

We must focus on how we support our people to adapt to this new world. We will have to be honest about the traumatic effect this pandemic has had on our society, and how we must all confront its impact, the anguish and loss it has caused.

Our support must also be practical, such as giving people the skills to respond to the inevitable changes in the labour market.

It means helping businesses deal with the transition out of this crisis by aiding their efforts to change their business models and practices, with an eye to the markets that will grow in the future.

Our public services will also have to change.

They will need to help families and communities recover from the disorientating shock of these times, as well as harnessing the kindness and compassion that has poured from people up and down the country.

Even as Scotland begins to plan a managed transition away from current restrictions, we must still adhere to the advice – stay at home if you have the symptoms, keep physically distanced, and maintain hand and cough hygiene.

As and when we lift restrictions, we will need to put in place public health measures to stop an uncontrolled peak of cases that would require a return to lockdown.

We must also still protect the most vulnerable sections of society. Perhaps we can look at how some people could meet in small groups, in defined ‘bubbles’ of contact.

We can also consider how we can re-open schools, most likely in a very gradual and phased way; we will need to consider how we can do this while maintaining physical distancing.

While we think about these ideas, our plans to recover must take account of the possibility of re-imposing restrictions, and recognise the possibility that they could be re-imposed quickly.

The pandemic has changed the way societies and economies across the world operate, and Scotland is no different.

I am confident we can start to begin considering our futures with optimism because this crisis has taught us how we can achieve rapid results under the most demanding circumstances. We have seen our NHS respond with radical action, and a new medical facility built in Glasgow with speed, skill and expertise.

This crisis has also prompted us to drive change that otherwise may not have been so urgent – such as the increased use of online tools to reduce travel and work from home.

We have also seen the great capacity of our society to work together in a common purpose.

We must now take these lessons into the planning of how we recover from this crisis, and how we will live our lives in the “new normal” that awaits us all.

This article originally appeared in The Herald.