We need to protect each other so we can enjoy the festive period

COP26 was one of the largest and most important gatherings to ever take place in Scotland.

Hosting an event on such a scale was never going to be easy, but the warmth and enthusiasm shown by the people of Glasgow towards the 40,000 people who attended the summit was clear, and I was inundated with delegates telling me how wonderful our city is.

We can all be very proud of the leadership that people across Scotland and, in particular, the people of Glasgow showed during COP. My thanks go to everyone.

Last week, I spoke about the mixed emotions I was feeling around COP26 and whether an agreement was likely to be reached.

I also spoke about how worried I was about whether the text of any agreement would be bold or ambitious enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and avoid the climate chaos we have been warned about so many times.

Last week, all 197 countries did manage to reach an agreement – despite some last minute disputes over what it would, or would not, include. Although the Glasgow Climate Pact did not go as far as many of us would have liked, it undoubtedly has the potential to accelerate the journey to net zero.

COP 26 made real progress on some important issues – like tackling deforestation and reducing methane emissions, and accepting that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees is essential.

However, there is much more that needs to be done – not least recognising the loss and damage many developing countries are already suffering due to the devastating effects of climate change – and I sincerely hope that the Glasgow Climate Pact provides a stepping stone for governments and leaders, including Scotland, to scale up our ambition and deliver fully on our commitments before it’s too late for our planet.

Just as COP26 finished and the marquees were being dismantled, Christmas markets started to appear in both Glasgow and Edinburgh and decorations started to go up in restaurants, bars and hotels – usually one of the first signs that the festive season is just around the corner.

While there is still considerable uncertainty ahead – with cases surging again across Europe – I do remain hopeful that this Christmas will be very different to last year, and that we will be able to meet up with friends and family to celebrate Christmas and Hogmanay whilst, of course, still taking the precautions that are necessary to curb the spread of the COVID virus.

The tentative optimism I feel around the festive period is partly down to the fact that on first, second and booster and third doses, Scotland is currently the most vaccinated part of the UK.

Our vaccination programme continues to make excellent progress – with Scotland also becoming the first nation in the UK to give a booster dose of the vaccine to over half of people over the age of 50.

Vaccination has been a huge job for the national health service, and the immense progress is down to every single one of the health and social care staff working tirelessly to get jags into arms and keep us all safe.

Getting vaccinated remains the single most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and those around us, and it’s never too late to get vaccinated. So, if you haven’t already been to get your first, second, or booster dose – if you’ve been invited for it – please do so now.

Additionally, if you are aged 50 to 59, an unpaid carer over the age of 16, or a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed, you can also now book your vaccination through an online portal on the NHS Inform website.

As I’ve just said, there is much to be positive about when it comes to our progress in tackling COVID and our brilliant vaccination programme – however, we’re not quite out of the woods yet.

Across Scotland, we have seen a gradual increase in cases over the last couple of weeks, and we still have a tough winter to get through.

Our situation remains precarious, and this virus is still as unpredictable as it was eighteen months ago.

Several European countries are currently dealing with a sharp increase in COVID cases once again, and many of these countries are also introducing tighter restrictions to deal with increasing infection rates.

It would be naïve, and quite frankly irresponsible, for the Scottish Government to rule out any additional measures being necessary to keep this virus under control and keep people safe, but if we keep using all of the tools at our disposal to drive Covid rates down as far as possible, I really hope we can avoid having to re-introduce any restrictions over the winter period.

Covid is still with us, and could be for some time yet – so we simply cannot afford to let our guard down.

However, if we all continue to play our part and keep our eye firmly on the ball, I am hopeful that we can keep COVID at bay and enjoy the Christmas and New Year celebrations we missed out on in 2020.