Warnings have been issued a local lockdown could be imposed in Moray unless Covid cases are brought under control.
The region currently has one of the highest infection rates in the country and is currently accounting for half of all NHS Grampian cases – despite being home to less than 17% of the population.
Health officials have revealed that Elgin has had the majority of the cases but have stressed they are spread across the region.
Within the last 20 days, more than 100 new cases have been detected in Moray while totals drop in the rest of the country.
NHS Grampian has revealed the source of more than a third of the cases is a mystery – raising the concern of community transmission.
Warnings have been issued by health officials, Moray Council and Visit Moray Speyside that there is a now risk of the region “being left behind” with a local lockdown when restrictions in the rest of the country ease next month.
All of Scotland is currently in Level 3 restrictions and is due to move to Level 2 on May 17 – allowing people to socialise in homes, alcohol to be served indoors, cinemas and bingo halls to reopen and small-scale events to take place.
However, Moray could be at risk of missing out on these benefits if a local lockdown is imposed and the region remains at Level 3.
Concerns weekend could bring ‘perfect storm’
Susan Webb, NHS Grampian’s director of public health, said: “We really are on a worrying trajectory in Moray and it’s vital everyone ensure they are sticking to the rules.
“There is a real fear, that with unlocking and the May Day weekend, if individuals don’t act responsibly and stick with the guidelines they could create the perfect storm in the area.
“About two thirds of cases we are able to connect and identify a source but with more than a third of the cases we are not clear where the individual may have picked it up.
“It’s been a long winter and we are looking forward to being able to do more as restrictions ease
“If we’re not able to get the numbers under control then we will have to consider whether it’s appropriate to ease them.
“If the numbers stay as they are then we wouldn’t be able to ease the restrictions.”
‘We need to hit this hard and catch this early’
Statistics from NHS Grampian show that Moray currently has an infection rate of 50.1 people per 100,000 – more than treble the rate of 15.7 in Aberdeen City and more than five times the rate of 8.4 in Aberdeenshire and 7.2 in the Highlands.
The rise in Moray has led to health authorities extending the usual testing regime to those without the usual Covid symptoms.
The wider range includes those asking those with chills, a fever, a cough, sore throat, headache, runny nose, shortness of breath, general weakness, muscle pain, diarrhoea or a loss of taste or smell to book a test immediately.
Moray currently has one of the highest rates of Covid-19 in Scotland. It is vital everyone ensures they’re sticking to the rules to ensure we don’t get left behind as the rest of the country unlocks. https://t.co/exsrHeUsh8
— HSCMoray (@HSCMoray) April 29, 2021
Moray Council chief executive Roddy Burns believes the region may be the “victim of its own success” after recording the lowest totals on the mainland through last year.
He said: “We need to hit this hard and catch this early.
“We do not want this to escalate and impact our ability to open up Moray’s healthcare services or economy. If each of us takes personal responsibility to protect ourselves we’ll be able to let our businesses thrive and welcome back tourists.
“As hard as it may feel, don’t meet people indoors, don’t hug each other, don’t meet in large groups. We’ve come so far and we need to keep going until we get to the end.”
Sam Thomas, chief nurse in Moray, said: “Community transmission is one of the concerning things, it’s very difficult to pinpoint the reasons behind it.
“We have been extremely fortunate and had very few cases in Moray through the pandemic, so does that mean we don’t have that herd immunity?
“The public has been exceptional in buying into the messages with face coverings and the vaccination programme but for one reason or another we are seeing this community transmission.”
Local lockdown could be ‘devastating’ for tourism
Laurie Piper, chief executive of Visit Moray Speyside, has warned a local lockdown could be “devastating” for firms that had been preparing to open up for visitors.
He said: “In 2019, before the lost year, tourism had reached its greatest heights in terms of visitors and income generated.
“Business have been devastated over the last year but they’ve also been working hard, without exception, to reassure visitors and residents that we are a safe place to visit.
“This latest indication of Covid cases is, for me, an alarm bell that we are nearly there but not quite there yet – we have to remain mindful and cautious and do everything we can to avoid a regional or local lockdown.
“The risk is hundreds of thousands of pounds of investment gone and, unfortunately, redundancies, job losses and closures.”
How to book tests
All residents in Moray have been encouraged to order coronavirus tests.
Those with any of the extended symptoms should book a test online at nhsinform.scot or call 0800 028 2816 if they cannot get online and must not attend asymptomatic testing sites.
Those with both classic and extended symptoms in Moray should immediately book a test online at nhsinform.scot or call 0800 028 2816 if they cannot get online.
All residents in Scotland can currently order a free pack of a lateral flow tests to be delivered to their home with results available in 30 minutes.
Moray Council is currently offering free testing, only for those without symptoms, at the Williamson Hall on Moss Street in Elgin until Friday, April 30.
From Monday, May 3 the testing sites will move to the Cluny Square car park in Buckie, the Regent Square car park in Keith, the Leys Road car park in Forres and the Alice Littler car park in Aberlour.