IN any other year, this would be the last week of term – with schools preparing to go on their summer break, and many of us looking forward to going on a summer holiday.

But of course, this has been no ordinary year. It has been the toughest our country has lived through in most of our lifetimes.

The positive news – after weeks of worry and sorrow for many – is that it feels like we are turning a corner in tackling Coronavirus, with each week seeing another fall in the number of new cases, the number of intensive care admissions and the number of people who have sadly died.

But as we’ve seen in the last few days, with a resurgence of cases in parts of China and South Korea, the global fight to supress this virus still has a long way to go.

So we cannot be remotely complacent. The virus has not gone away and it still poses a real threat.

However, in Scotland we have made real progress in suppressing it to much lower levels and as a result, I was pleased to be able to announce some further lifting of restrictions last week as we enter Phase 2 of our exit from lockdown.

I hope that many of you were able to spend some well-earned time with your family over the weekend.

I was finally able to get down to Ayrshire for a socially-distant visit to my own mum and dad last weekend – it was the first time I’d seen them in three months, and it made me realise just how much I’ve missed them.

And for those of you who have been shielding for several months, I know that it is still difficult to live with the necessary restrictions on your daily life – but I hope that now being able to now get out and exercise and meet with others outdoors will make a big difference for you.

One of the biggest harms of lockdown is loneliness and isolation, particularly for older people living alone and lone parents – we’ve been working hard to support them, but also thinking about what more we can do without significant increase in risk to their health.

During Phase 2, anyone who lives on their own – or only with children under 18 – can now form an ‘extended household group’ with one other household, as long as no-one is shielding. Within an extended household group, people can meet indoors without physical distancing and stay overnight.

This allows a grandparent who lives on their own to form a group with another household in their family, and a single parent and their children can join with another household for support.

It also means that a non-cohabiting couple, where at least one of them lives alone, can be reunited.

I understand why some people are disappointed that we cannot move faster.

I share that disappointment – I would love to see retail, pubs and restaurants able to open sooner.

But it would be completely irresponsible of me to move at a pace that put lives at risk.

And patience will bring benefits. For example, by waiting a little bit longer than we had originally envisaged to reopen retail, we’re able to go further than initially planned, and hopefully that will be the case in other areas going forward – including schools.

We’re also looking carefully at the evidence on outdoor gatherings in the hospitality sector, such as beer gardens, given emerging evidence from other countries that such gatherings pose a risk of transmission of the virus.

Our collective efforts and sacrifices have seen us make hugely encouraging progress – but we must stay the course.

We do not want to get into a situation where we are having to reintroduce restrictions – that would not only be very disruptive to our daily lives, but also very damaging for businesses trying to recover.

I also understand that as we ease restrictions, the guidance on what we should and should not do becomes more complex.

We do still want people to stay at home as much as possible – that is absolutely central to suppressing the virus – but we also want to give people as much freedom in their lives as is safely possible.

We are now asking you to ‘stay safe, protect others and save lives’. To help us all remember what that means, we are now emphasising the FACTS which will help us all to stay safe.

Each letter of the word

FACTS should help to remind us all of key measures we need to comply with.

Face coverings in enclosed spaces. Avoid crowded places. Clean your hands regularly. Two metre distancing. Self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.

Complying with these measures will be crucial to keeping the virus under control. And it is a prerequisite for any future easing of the lockdown restrictions.

We have come a long way in supressing this virus – but we have a bit further to go.

By working together for a bit longer, we will soon be able to return to much more normality.