LOOKING out the window as I write this, it certainly seems like autumn is rapidly approaching – bringing to an end what has been a very difficult and unusual summer for all of us.

The battle to suppress Covid-19 has certainly limited all of our usual activities over the last few months.

Looking back, I have been bowled over by how strongly people in Scotland have supported the lockdown measures – even though they are really tough.

And while the sacrifices we have made haven’t been easy, nor have they been in vain.

To take one significant example, before summer we didn’t yet know if schools would be able to return full-time in August. But thanks to the efforts we all made to bring Covid-19 under control, that is exactly what we were able to do. That is a huge boost not only to the education of our young people, but also to parents and caregivers looking after them.

Unfortunately, we still have some way to go in order to defeat this virus – and as we head into autumn and winter, all of us need to be absolutely on our guard against Covid-19.

The World Health Organisation have issued a very stark warning that the global pandemic is accelerating – it has certainly not gone away. You are probably reading the same concerning news of increasing cases from across Europe and beyond that I am.

There is simply no way to completely cocoon ourselves from the global trend. Even New Zealand, which had for so long recorded no cases of infection, is now having to reintroduce some restrictions.

Although the global situation is obviously worrying, we should take heart from the fact that in some ways we are in a stronger position to fight the virus than we were in March, when Covid-19 was a new virus that the world knew little about.

Not only have scientists learned more about how Covid-19 spreads, how it affects people and how to treat them – but we also now have increased testing capacity. We continue to work closely with the UK Government to make sure that the pressures on the testing system are addressed. Our contact tracing system has also enabled us to introduce more targeted measures in recent weeks when we have become aware of clusters.

I know that the recent restrictions on household gatherings reintroduced in Glasgow and surrounding council areas are not welcome. As a Glasgow resident I am also affected by them.

But it was our sophisticated contact tracing procedures that identified household gatherings as the main driver of the increase in Glasgow. That meant we have been able to make that the focus of our restrictions – and avoid having to close bars and restaurants, to limit travel or to close schools.

We’ll continue to be as targeted as possible with any other measures we have to introduce – keeping the population as safe as possible, with the minimum of disruption to our lives.

Glasgow Times: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is also a Glasgow MSP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is also a Glasgow MSP

And we are continuing to step up our defences against Covid-19. As of last week we have a significant new tool at our disposal.

NHS Scotland’s new contact tracing app, Protect Scotland, has just been launched. 

The free app is available to download from the Apple or Google stores – and will work with any smartphone released in the last five years or so. You can get more information on the app from the protect.scot website.

It uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously alert users if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positively for the virus, and advises them to self-isolate.

Protecting privacy is a key feature – it doesn’t store any details about you or your location, but uses anonymised code exchanges to determine if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

The more people who download the app, the more effective it will be in keeping all of us safe – the first week has seen huge amounts of people downloading already, so if you haven’t already, please log on to your app store and download. It will help keep everyone safe.

This new app is a significant additional tool in helping us to make connections that may otherwise have been missed.

I want to stress that Protect Scotland is not a panacea in suppressing Covid-19.

Not everyone will have the technology to use the app – although they will obviously benefit if the population as a whole sees reduced levels of transmission – so this is very much there to complement existing contact tracing methods.

And it is very, very important that we all continue to follow the guidelines on hand hygiene and physical distancing. I can’t stress that enough.

I know that people want life to get back to normal, and that everyone is tired of the restrictions. But we mustn’t let our guard down now

So please stick with it so we can save lives, and hopefully take steps to get back to the normal life that we all want to see.