NICOLA Sturgeon is hopeful "relatively minor but important" changes will be made to Scotland's lockdown rules next week.

The First Minister said the progress of the vaccination programme and a drop in cases signalled "greater normality is firmly on the horizon". 

She said changes could be made to the rules around meeting people outdoors and allowing young people to see friends outdoors.

Ms Sturgeon made the comments at the Scottish Government's regular coronavirus update. 

READ MORE: Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon confirms new cases as hospital numbers drop

She said: "The good progress of the vaccination programme and also the declining number of people catching or falling seriously ill with Covid should give us all real encouragement just now that greater normality is firmly on the horizon."

She added: "I'm hopeful that next week we might be able to make some relatively minor but I think important changes to the rules around our ability to meet people outdoors, and also to how young people are able to interact with their friends outdoors.

"I think it's really important that we don't get carried away yet – the overall 'stay at home' message needs to stay for a bit longer so that we don't send our progress into reverse. 

"But I'm very keen that within that, if we can, then we should all get a bit more opportunity to see loved ones, as the first steps we take out of this lockdown."

Ms Sturgeon said she will announce the new changes in Holyrood on Tuesday.

She said there had been 498 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours - the lowest daily total since September 27.

Hospital cases have fallen, with 666 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down 52 in 24 hours, and 64 patients in intensive care, down three.

Scotland recorded 11 deaths of coronavirus patients, taking deaths under this measure - of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days - to 7,409.

Ms Sturgeon urged people to stick with the rules, adding that if they did, she is "really, really optimistic that we will continue to see the progress we need to see to start opening things up and getting us all back to much more reality".

She warned: "We also know then just how quickly things started to go in the wrong direction.

"It is really important we stick with it for now, hold our nerve, keep suppressing cases while vaccination does its job.

"If we do all of that, we can be really hopeful that there are definitely, at long last, better days lying ahead."

Jason Leitch, Scotland's national clinical director, said he is "more hopeful" than he has been for some time.