NICOLA Sturgeon has raised hopes that the lockdown exit plan could be “accelerated” as more progress in suppressing the virus continues.

The First Minister told MPS that when she gives her daily update from Holyrood next Tuesday, “I hope to be able to confirm some changes to Scotland's level four restrictions”.

When she set out her exit plan last month, the First Minister indicated that the national stay at home lockdown is likely to remain in place until at least April 5, while tiered geographical restrictions were expected to be set out from the last week in April.

Ms Sturgeon added: “We will be considering if it might be possible to accelerate the exit from lockdown in any way, consistent of course with the care and caution we know is necessary.

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"There is more reason to be optimistic now than at any time since early autumn. That said, we know we need to take care to avoid sending progress into reverse.

"657 new cases a day is the lowest level for five months – but it is still 13 times higher than the numbers in mid-August.”

Ms Sturgeon said that 1,634,361 people in Scotland have now received the first dose of the vaccine, which she suggested is starting to have an impact on the number of daily deaths, particularly in care homes.

The First Minister added that "just under 14,500" care home residents have received their second dose of the vaccine.

She added that the continued rollout of the vaccine should “start having an impact on hospitalisation and transmission rates”.

The First Minister added that she did not want to give people “false hope”, but added that there's "every reason now that the exit from lockdown might be quicker and come sooner than we believed to be the case even a few weeks ago".

But Ms Sturgeon warned that while a “reduction in hospital admissions is very encouraging”, it is still the situation that “hundreds of people every week are still falling seriously ill”.

She added: “We know that the new variant - which now accounts for more than 85 per cent of new cases in Scotland - is highly infectious."

The First Minister reiterated that minsiters and health officials will consider "if the data allows us to bring forward any relaxation of the rules".

She added: "I have always said if we can go further and faster, then we will not hesitate to do so. 

"All of us want to move on as quickly as possible - and, as a priority, to see friends and family again. This will very much be the focus of our considerations over the next few weeks and I hope the day for that is not too far away. 

"But to make sure we don’t see any reverse in our progress that would put that in jeopardy, it is really important that, for now, we all need to abide by the lockdown rules."