A YEAR has passed since the first death in Scotland of a person with Covid.

Every day since then, I have taken time to reflect on the lives lost due to this virus – as I am sure many others have too.

Covid has taken thousands of loved ones away from friends and families. It is difficult to comprehend the scale of loss or to put into words the sorrow we feel for each life lost, and for the continued grief and heartache felt by so many people.

As we approach the anniversary – on March 23 – of the first lockdown, we are considering how best to commemorate this loss of life and also to recognise the sacrifices so many people have made in the course of the pandemic.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon lockdown update: Dates for reopening of pubs, hairdressers and gyms

The Scottish Government has been in contact with a range of organisations to discuss how we can best mark the anniversary. As part of those plans I will meet representatives of UK Covid Families for Justice.

Current plans include a national moment of silence on March 23.

However, I know that local commemorations will also be important to communities across the country, so we are discussing how people can be supported to develop their own commemorative activities over the coming year. It is hoped that these local commemorations will form part of our longer-term plans for remembrance.

There is no doubt that this past year has presented us with the challenge of our lifetimes. Tackling Covid has been a national endeavour, but as dark as these times can seem, we should also reflect on how far we have come in a relatively short period of time.

Covid is still a comparatively new disease. And yet in the year since it was first detected in Scotland, vaccines have been developed to protect us against it.

The work undertaken by scientists here in Scotland, the rest of the UK and worldwide is nothing short of astounding.

Advances in developing more vaccines and identifying how best to treat the virus are happening every day.

This offers us real hope, because the more we learn, the better chance we stand of getting ahead of the virus, and facing off new challenges it may present for us in the future.

Glasgow Times: We are working together against this disease We are working together against this disease
We have all made great sacrifices in the past year. It has been a tremendous struggle, I know. But together we have helped protect each other, and we prevented the NHS from being overwhelmed. The sacrifices that have been made also prevented the loss of life from being much higher.

As we continue this collective effort, we all yearn to get back to living our lives as we knew them before. And I hope we are getting closer to that.

Whilst case numbers have risen slightly over the past week, overall the past couple of months have seen a significant fall in new cases.

Deaths – whilst still heartbreakingly high – are falling. So too are hospital and intensive care admissions.

The vaccination programme also continues to progress far beyond our initial expectations.

Already, around 40% of the adult population have been given their first dose of vaccine.

That is an extraordinary achievement in such a short space of time.

The headline figure of those having received a first dose includes nearly everyone over the age of 65 and almost half of 60 to 64-year-olds. And the programme is set to significantly accelerate in the coming weeks.

Indeed, by mid April our expectation is that everyone over the age of 50, all unpaid carers and all adults with certain underlying health conditions will have received the first dose of the vaccine. We will then move on to the rest of the adult population and, supplies permitting, we hope to have offered a first dose to all adults by the end of July.

At the same time, vaccinators will be busy doing second doses too.

So it is thanks to all that we have done, together, that we can now look forward to the easing of more restrictions – details of which I have been setting out this week.

Coronavirus Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon reveals lockdown exit for spring and summer with key dates in April

This follows some relaxation of rules last weekend, which allows for up to four adults from two households to meet and socialise outdoors, including in gardens, as well as the go-ahead for a return to group exercise and non-contact outdoor sports.

These changes may appear minor, but it is hoped that they will have a positive impact on our general well-being and quality of life, without having too big an impact on infection rates.

And I know from the many reunions over the course of last weekend, that even the smallest of change can make a big difference.

There is no doubt that we are heading firmly in the right direction, but we cannot afford to take our foot off the brake too soon. Rates are falling but they are still high.

So as we remember those who have lost their lives, we should resolve to continue doing all we can to fight the virus, in the hope that fewer families suffer such heartache in future.