Health bosses have warned Moray is unlikely to move to Level 2 with the rest of the country amid a surge of Covid cases in the region.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is due to make an announcement on Tuesday about the next step of Scotland’s unlocking.
However, NHS Grampian has warned it is likely Moray will continue to be held at Level 3 for longer as the region continues to record the highest rate of Covid cases in the country.
The most recent figures show the area is recording 93.9 cases per 100,000 of people in seven days – significantly higher than the 8.42 in Aberdeenshire and 7.63 in the Highlands.
And warnings have been issued it may still be several days before the peak of the local outbreak is reached.
Impact of Level 2 delay in Moray could be ‘significant’
Chris Littlejohn, NHS Grampian’s deputy director of public health, praised the community response to calls to take up increased testing but said the situation remained of “great concern”.
Door-to-door testing remains under consideration for hot spots if the situation continues to worsen.
He said: “The impact of being left behind could be quite significant.
“It will be painful and understandably it will be upsetting for many, but with the extra vaccinations, testing and people sticking by the guidelines Moray will very soon be heading in the right direction and I’d thank each and every person who is playing their part in protecting Moray.
“Please stay patient, we need people to continue to do the right thing and stick with the guidelines.
“Things aren’t going to improve overnight, there is a lag between exposure, incubation and symptoms, but we hope that all of these measures will result in an improving picture in the next 10 to 14 days.”
Tourism representatives have warned the Covid situation in Moray is already leading to cancelled bookings from visitors eager to enjoy greater freedoms in Level 2 areas.
NHS Grampian efforts to control Moray cases
Throughout the last two weeks NHS Grampian has poured resources into Moray in an effort to control the outbreak.
A new PCR mobile testing unit, which has tests analysed by a laboratory, was opened at Elgin Academy for staff and pupils after more than 50 cases were reported at the school.
The vaccination programme has also been accelerated in the region with appointments currently in the process of being offered to all over 18s with some already receiving their jabs.
Jillian Evans, NHS Grampian’s head of health intelligence, revealed cases were continuing to be identified outside of the Elgin, principally in Keith, and urged residents to take up testing facilities to control the spread.
She said: “At the moment we’re not seeing any new variant, other than the Kent variant.
“There’s a couple of reasons why it might be happening in Moray though.
“Firstly, Moray’s experience of the pandemic has been very different to other parts of Scotland with much lower case numbers so the natural immunity may not be as high.
“Another is people believing the risk of infection is really low, and they can be forgiven for that when they hear restrictions are being eased and they’ve let their guard down.”
Mrs Evans also confirmed the accelerated vaccine rollout in Moray will not affect when appointments will be offered to residents in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
She said: “We’ve been able to mobilise very quickly because we have more vaccines are available to us, the supply has made this possible, in connection with having the capacity to extend the opening hours at the vaccine centre in Elgin.
“It isn’t going to adversely affect other patients in Grampian, they will still get their appointments at the same time they would have done.”
What will Moray miss out on in Level 2 delay?
Moray’s expected delay to moving to Level 2 restrictions could mean it will be longer before cinemas, bingo halls and other indoor venues can open again.
It could also mean reunions in private homes will be forced to be pushed back once again.
The Scottish Government threshold for regions moving to Level 2 restrictions is fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that the situation was “very serious” in Moray.
She said: “Ninety-eight cases per 100,000. The R is about 1.8.
“So, people would recognise that means you’ve got 10 people who are infected could potentially pass it on to up to 18. That’s very serious.
“I think what happened is, we still have a very transmissible virus. Once you have clusters it does spread, and it does seem to be in that local area.”
How and when to organise a Covid test
Those with any of the symptoms listed below should book a test, via nhsinform.scot or call 0800 028 2816 if you cannot get online, and must not attend sites asymptomatic testing sites.
Those with both classic and extended symptoms in Moray should immediately book a test via nhsinform.scot or call 0800 028 2816 if you cannot get online.
Extended symptoms include:
- General weakness
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle pain
- Runny nose
- Dry or productive cough
The individual and their whole household, including any extended or bubble members, should self-isolate immediately self-isolate until the test results are returned.
A timetable of when asymptomatic testing is available at locations across Moray can be found here.