LAST week we reached a highly significant milestone in our rollout of the Covid vaccine – more than one million people across Scotland, in the most clinically vulnerable groups, have now received the first dose.

The programme, which started in older people’s care homes, has been gathering pace in the community over the past couple of weeks following the opening of large-scale vaccination centres.

And it is fair to say the programme is going better than we dared hope.

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Our vaccine deployment plan, published a few weeks ago, assumed an uptake in each priority group of 80%. Actual uptake has so far exceeded these expectations.

For example, in older people’s care homes 99.9% of residents have been vaccinated, as have more than 95% of the over 80s age group living in the community.

Glasgow Times: Covid vaccinations hubs, such as this one in Castlemilk, have been created across the city Covid vaccinations hubs, such as this one in Castlemilk, have been created across the city

Reaching this stage is testament to the enormous hard work and dedication of our vaccination teams. As well as implementing the biggest logistical programme in our peacetime history, they have also faced some of the most extreme winter weather we have had in years.

I don’t mind admitting that I was very nervous about the impact the recent dreadful weather would have on people’s ability to get their jags.

I’m pleased that these concerns turned out to be largely baseless.

Not only are we hitting our targets to vaccinate the over 70s – and those with extreme clinical vulnerabilities – by mid February, but many in the 65-69-year-old age group have also now received their first dose.

The higher level of take-up is great news – people across the country are coming together not only for their own individual protection, but to play their part in our collective fight against this virus.

However, the high levels of vaccinations come at a time when we have received slightly lower stocks of the vaccine than we originally expected. This is due to a temporary reduction in Pfizer’s manufacturing capacity.

This presents a slight challenge over the next couple of weeks, especially as we also need to ensure we keep enough stocks for second doses as they get under way. So we need to be careful not schedule more appointments than our supplies allow.

This means the number of appointments might reduce over the next few weeks. However, we will be able to ramp up again just as soon as supplies allow.

At the beginning of the vaccination rollout, I made it clear there would be challenges along the way, and this is exactly the sort of issue that can be expected.

The good news is we remain on course to meet the targets set out – we still expect that everyone over the age of 50 will have received their first dose by early May.

There is no doubt that the vaccine programme has been the ray of sunshine we have all desperately needed.

And we are also seeing results from the lockdown measures in place to stop the spread of the virus.

The continued lockdown is tough for everyone – there’s no two ways about it.

But we know it’s necessary – the new variant of the virus is much more infectious and 
it now accounts for the vast majority of new cases in Scotland.

But thankfully, even against the new variant, the lockdown appears to be working – the R number remains below one and we are seeing a decline in case numbers and hospital admissions.

All of this is encouraging, but we’re still in a precarious situation.

Other new variants we hear of from around the world pose a real threat to the progress we have made.

Glasgow Times: Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon

We know a large proportion of the rise in cases last summer were directly linked to international travel. So we must take steps to prevent this from happening again.

It’s why, as of this week and following clinical advice, we now have new rules in place which require anyone flying directly into Scotland from outside the Common Travel Area to isolate in selected quarantine hotels for at least 10 days from arrival.

We are asking the UK Government to ensure those travelling into Scotland from UK airports will also be required to isolate.

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Travellers will be tested twice for coronavirus – once on day two and once on day eight.

Six hotels close to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports will be used for isolation.

These arrangements may sound extreme, but as we suppress the virus within our own borders and get more and more people vaccinated, we must do all we can to stop new strains coming into the country.

If all of us agree to only travel when absolutely essential just now, it is possible that we will get some more normality back into our domestic life.

Over the weeks to come, we won’t be able to do everything we want while also keeping Covid under control – so it will be more important than ever to decide what matters most to us. I suspect for most people that is getting children back at school, seeing our loved ones a bit more freely and – even if gradually – getting more of the economy open again.