This is tough but we can be optimistic that science will get us out of this pandemic

The decision to move 11 local authorities into the highest protection level this week, and to restrict travel in and out of them was a difficult one to make.

I am acutely aware that for many individuals and businesses this will be both disappointing and distressing.

I know the Covid restrictions are really difficult and that many of you are thoroughly scunnered and fed up. I feel exactly the same and would never pretend otherwise.

But with positive news from trials of Covid vaccines offering some light at the end of the tunnel, it is all the more important that we do not let our guard down now.

That’s why for everyone– and especially those living in the 11 council areas in level four – we need to ask you to sacrifice a little bit more.

The restrictions put in place in recent weeks have slowed down the increase in cases considerably and helped to flatten the infection curve.

The sacrifices you are making are helping to save lives, and I can never thank everyone enough for the efforts you are making, but the overall level of infection remains higher than we need it to be.

And it’s why we have taken the additional measures of putting in place necessary and proportionate travel regulations because we have to limit the spread of the virus between areas.

The levels system in Scotland is allowing us to avoid a national, one size fits all lockdown such as is currently in place in England or Northern Ireland, but without restricting travel, there is every chance the virus will spread, so it important no matter what level you are in, that you follow the travel rules.

Taking decisive action now to move local authority areas to the highest level of restrictions will also help us to reduce the prevalence of the virus further in a few weeks’ time, and that allows us to think about how in a very careful and limited way we could potentially ease some restrictions to allow those who need to get together at Christmas to do so.

That is something all of us want to do. But we also know it will increase the risks of transmission so we must get infection rates to a lower baseline now.

These measures are essential to protect our communities and, especially at this time of year, to protect the NHS.

All of this is tough but we do have real reasons to be optimistic that science will get us out of this pandemic – and hopefully soon.

This week, the Health Secretary set out to Parliament our plans to start vaccinating the most vulnerable as soon as stocks of an approved vaccine are available – hopefully this might even be before the end of the calendar year.

I do hold to the belief that love and solidarity – albeit with a lot of help from science – we will get us through this. And that soon we will be looking back on it, not living through it.

So please try to stay strong. And please, stick with it and stick together.