BACK in the summer, we gradually moved through our Routemap out of lockdown and restored more normality to our lives, through the reopening of schools, shops, workplaces, tourism and hospitality.

It was important that we did this – for economic reasons as well as for our overall wellbeing – but inevitably, it gave the virus opportunities to spread.

Staying in lockdown indefinitely wasn’t, and never will be, an option. However reopening parts of society and the economy and gaining more freedoms in our lives whilst also still keeping Covid at very low levels is a balance that will always be extremely difficult to achieve.

We’ve seen infection rates spike significantly recently, and regrettably more people have been admitted to hospital and intensive care – and sadly, more people are now mourning the loss of loved ones.

The rising toll of illness and death is a devastating reminder of the serious consequences this virus can have, and the families who have borne the biggest impact are in my thoughts each and every day.

While it is of no comfort to those who are sick or grieving, it is important to remember that we are not alone in facing this – this is a global pandemic and many other countries are facing a resurgence of Covid, just like Scotland is.

Just last week Ireland became the first European country to return to something close to a nationwide lockdown, and Wales followed suit soon after. Regions of Germany, Spain and Italy have recently reimposed restrictions, and a state of emergency was declared in France with curfews established in its major cities.

When the virus begins to spread, we must put in places protections to stem that spread.

However we recognise that it can become increasingly confusing to follow new measures as we respond quickly and, where possible locally, to outbreaks of infection.

This is why we have published a new Strategic Framework which, like the earlier Routemap, aims to provide a clearer system of the different levels of restrictions that might be necessary.

A particular level can be applied nationally if that is necessary, but it will also be possible to apply different levels in different parts of the country if the virus is spreading at different rates. It will mean that a part of the country with low levels of infection won’t necessarily have to live with the same restrictions as an area with much higher rates. It is an attempt to be more targeted and proportionate.

Decisions on how to apply the levels will be taken by ministers, in consultation with council and public health directors, and based on scientific and clinical evidence. Like all measures, they’ll be reviewed regularly so that restrictions are only in place for as long as is absolutely necessary.

The aim is to get all of Scotland to the lowest level – which is as close to normal life as possible, whilst still living with the virus – and stay there for as long as possible.

However even at the highest level, we still hope to have more flexibility than under the severe lockdown we had in spring.

In other words, we don’t want to return to a full lockdown again if we can avoid it.

Detail on the new framework and what each level means is available on the Scottish Government website – – and we’ll determine this week what level will apply initially to each local authority area.

We are also taking other steps to tackle the virus. For example, we are increasing testing capacity to 65,000 a day. That will allow us to extend routine testing – for example, to regular visitors to care homes, more NHS staff and care at home workers. We will also test more asymptomatic people for surveillance purposes.

In addition we are providing updated advice to those on the shielding list to enable them to make informed decisions about how to stay safe and protect themselves.

We’ve also set out more information on support for businesses affected by closures.

The framework is an important tool to help us progress through this pandemic. But, ultimately, our success depends on all of us.

We are all thoroughly fed up of the virus, and the impact it has had on our lives for the best part of a year now. And I know that the thought of more restrictions is mentally exhausting.

None of us want to be in this situation, but we also know why restrictions are necessary. We must stop a dangerous virus running out of control and taking more lives.

And difficult though it is just now, it will not be forever.

There is hope on the horizon – we are optimistic that in the months ahead there will be developments in the shape of

more effective treatments and a vaccine.

I certainly look forward to those days.

Until then, the effort we put in now will make a difference.

Every person in Scotland can make that difference.

Now more than ever we need to look out for each other. What we are going through is hard.

So let’s be kind and compassionate, and stick with it, together.