I WANT to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy new year.

2021 was another tough and painful year but I am as hopeful as everyone else that 2022 will be better and brighter and, of course, that it will not be quite so dominated by the challenges of Covid.

We are all fed up with Covid. We yearn to put the last two years of the pandemic firmly behind us and get back to normal life – and I certainly hope that this time next year we’ll be looking at Covid in the rear view mirror.

Although the situation we face at the moment is still serious due to the greater transmissibility of the Omicron variant, life today is still much more normal than this time last year. And there are some early signs that we are beginning to turn a corner on this latest wave of the virus.

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Learning to live with the virus is something we all desperately want to do. Of course, much as we might wish it otherwise, this does not mean that we will wake up one morning soon and find that Covid has magically disappeared overnight.

Instead, it will involve more of the careful thought and difficult, although necessary, decisions that governments across the world, of all colours, have been wrestling with for almost two years – and it will involve consideration of, and empathy for, those who are at the highest risk from Covid.

It’s clear that the sacrifices many people made over Christmas have put us in a much better position than we might otherwise have been – but the virus is still circulating and high numbers of Covid cases are causing both illness and staff absences across our economy.

It’s vital therefore that we all continue to act in a way that keeps things moving in the right direction – by limiting our contacts with other households as far as possible, testing before we do meet up with others, working from home where possible, and wearing face coverings in shops, on public transport and when moving around hospitality settings.

And, of course, getting vaccinated remains the best possible protection against getting seriously ill with Covid.

Unfortunately, there are still too many eligible people in Scotland who are not yet fully vaccinated. There is plenty of capacity available – for first and second doses of the vaccine as well as boosters – so please come forward as soon as you can.

It’s never too late to get your jag, and there are medical professionals at all vaccination centres who would be happy to answer any questions you might have about the vaccine.

Continuing to tackle the Covid pandemic and supporting and protecting our NHS will be the focus of the Scottish Government each and every day as we navigate through Winter and into Spring.

Of course, I completely understand why people feel angry about and betrayed by the revelations emerging from Downing Street about multiple parties and breaches of the rules that everyone else was following at great and often very painful personal sacrifice.

And what adds insult to injury is that the Prime Minister appears incapable of giving an honest account of what happened.

It will not surprise anybody to hear my view that the office of Prime Minister and the interests of the country would be greatly enhanced by Boris Johnson’s departure as Prime Minister.

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It is not often that the Scottish Parliament is united on issues such as this, but on the matter of whether Boris Johnson should resign, we are, and so is the majority of the country.

Whilst the Prime Minister struggles with his attempts to cover up the culture of sleaze and corruption in Downing Street, the Scottish Government will continue getting on with the job of government and implementing policies that are deigned to make life better and easier for those who live here.

Just one example of such an approach is our ground breaking action to tackle period poverty and remove any lingering stigma associated with periods, by providing sanitary items free of charge across our communities – action which took another leap forward last week.

Last year, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products available for free. And last week, we launched a mobile app – PickupMyPeriod – which allows women and girls to identify locations across the country where period products can be accessed free of charge.

The app currently links to over 700 venues in communities across the country where free products are available – so I hope this new app will make life easier for those who can’t afford to buy sanitary items. And it will help ensure that such a forward looking and progressive policy will actually deliver the tangible benefits intended.

I’m proud of the fact that Scotland is a world-leader on issues such as this, and as we move though and out of the Covid pandemic, we will continue to apply ourselves with optimism, ambition and determination to the task of building the kind of fair and prosperous country that gives everyone the best chances in life.