FINALLY , after what has seemed like an interminable eight months, the past couple of weeks have brought us some long-awaited good news in the form of positive clinical trial results for possible Covid vaccines.

The global scientific, research and pharmaceutical communities have come together in recent months, and worked at a quite unprecedented speed. And now both Pfizer and Moderna have announced over 90% effectiveness in their Phase three clinical trials. All of this has given us more hope than we have had all year of a return to something closer to normality – and perhaps reasonably soon.

Of course, there is still some way to go before these vaccines are licensed as safe for use – and then there are the many logistical issues involved in ensuring a speedy and effective vaccination programme – but there is no doubt that recent developments are hugely encouraging.

In Scotland, we have begun planning on the basis that vaccines will be available soon, maybe even in small quantities before the end of the year. We have therefore been working on plans that – supplies permitting – could see a million people vaccinated by the end of January, with the rest of the adult population following as soon as possible after that.

Based on the clinical advice we have so far, our plan would be to vaccinate the following groups first – frontline health and social care staff, older residents in care homes, care home staff, all those aged 80 and over, unpaid carers and personal assistants, and those delivering the vaccination programme.

We would then work to vaccinate as quickly as possible after that people in the over 65 age group, and those under 65 who might be at additional risk due to other health conditions. And after that, we will extend the programme to the rest of the adult population.

It is important to be clear that this will be no mean feat. It will involve vaccinating 4.45 million people, the length and breadth of Scotland.

In Scotland, we have an excellent track record on delivering vaccinations but this will be one of the biggest logistical challenges we have ever faced.

To make it more complicated, there is likely to be more than one vaccine, and they may all have different requirements on how they are stored, handled and transported. This can make it particularly challenging for rural and island communities.

So we’ve strengthened NHS planning teams and are working with local authorities and the military to draw on their logistical expertise.

There is much we don’t know at this stage, and the challenges are real – but make no mistake, these are positive challenges to be facing. We are ready to deliver the vaccination programme in Scotland as soon as vaccines are approved for use – and so it finally feels like there is some light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Of course, we still have a tough winter to get through. And many people in Glasgow and across the central belt face three weeks in Level Four restrictions. Let me be clear – the decision to place Glasgow and 10 other council areas in in Level Four was not easy.

Everyone has sacrificed so much already, and being asked to do more is tough.

But I am appealing to everyone to stick to the new rules for the benefit of all of us.

Please stay at home as much as possible for this period, and keep your interactions with other people to a minimum.

As was already the case, please don’t visit other people’s homes – though you can still meet outdoors in groups of up to six people from no more than two households.

And if you live in a Level Three or Four areas please don’t travel outside your own council area unless for essential reasons – this is now law, demonstrating the seriousness we place on stemming the spread of the virus.

These are tough measures but they are necessary – we need to get the high levels of Covid we’ve seen in the city and surrounding areas down more quickly to reduce deaths and serious illness.

This short, sharp move into Level Four will also help protect the NHS during the winter period, ensuring hospitals and intensive care units can cope with demand and keep essential services running.

And it’s my hope that it will give us all a better chance – albeit in a very careful and limited way – of being able to meet up with some loved ones over Christmas.

I know things feel particularly difficult right now, but don’t forget that brighter times are in sight.

Vaccines – and other scientific developments – will get us out of this pandemic. We have always hoped that would be the case – but we now have reason to believe it more firmly and reason to hope that it will be soon.

So as we continue to struggle – as all of us are – with the day to day reality of this virus, let’s also focus on that good news and draw from it the encouragement and strength we need to keep going.