First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed it is “highly probable” Moray will be held at Level 3 coronavirus restrictions longer than the rest of Scotland.
The region has been experiencing a surge of cases in recent weeks with an infection rate more than four times higher than the national average.
Today the first minister has confirmed the rest of the country will move to Level 2 restrictions as case numbers ease from Monday.
Decision delayed with hopes cases will drop
However, concerns about widespread community transmission in Elgin, Keith and surrounding communities has led the Scottish Government to conclude it may not be “safe or sensible” to do the same in Moray.
A final decision is due to made before the end of the week.
Ms Sturgeon said: “There is widespread community transmission happening in Moray just now, and it’s against that backdrop, unless the situation were to materially improve, that it simply wouldn’t be safe or sensible to relax restrictions from Monday.
“It is highly probably Moray will stay at Level 3 for a further period.”
The first minister confirmed that if Moray were to stay at Level 3 that travel restrictions would be imposed to prevent people entering or leaving the region, except for permitted purposes.
Travel restrictions to be imposed on Moray
Additional financial support for affected businesses would also be provided with talks already under way with Moray Council.
Ms Sturgeon added: “If there is any extension to Level 3 then I would hope it’s for as short a period as possible.”
Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, who is also Moray MP, said the decision was “disappointing, but not unexpected”.
He said: “It will be difficult for individuals and families here in Moray to see the rest of Scotland benefit from an easing in the current restrictions but if we all work together then we can hopefully see cases drop and be brought under control which will allow us to move forward.
“However, there are small signs for optimism as cases may be beginning to stabilise and there has been a massive effort to increase the vaccination rollout here in Moray.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said: ““It is of course disappointing especially after we’d done so well for so long and after all the sacrifices people have made over the last year, but the focus now must be on getting through this as quickly as possible so we can join the rest of the country in Level 2.
“I welcome the substantial efforts being made to contain the situation, including the roll out of additional and expanded testing for both symptomatic and asymptomatic people, as well as the acceleration of vaccinations for those over the age of 18.”
Moray Council chief executive Roddy Burns said: “It’s disappointing that we may not be able to move out of Level 3 alongside the rest of Scotland next week, but we can still turn this situation around.
“If we all take up the testing opportunities whether we have extended symptoms or not; isolate when we’re advised to; and get our vaccine we can progress out of the pandemic alongside the rest of the country. But we must be vigilant and use all the mitigations we have available to us. That means staying out of other people’s houses and not hugging our loved ones for a bit longer so we can improve the situation here in Moray.
‘Owe it’ to local businesses and tourism sector to follow the rules and get tested
“We’ve already heard from businesses and the tourism sector in Moray that they’re seeing the impact of us having such high Covid case numbers compared to the rest of Scotland – we owe it to them, and our NHS colleagues, to take responsibility for our own actions and do as we’re asked. Community transmission means we all have the power to stop the spread, we need to step up and accept the responsibility that goes along with it.”
Deputy director of public health for NHS Grampian, Chris Littlejohn, praised the community’s response to the calls for increased testing.
He added: “If the community continues to do the right things, Level 2 won’t be far away. We are pleased to say there has been enormous interest in the accelerated vaccination programme for Moray – we would ask people to be patient with us and, wherever possible, make every effort to attend the appointment made for them.
“We’ve also seen many people take up the enhanced testing offers – finding the virus and getting those with it to isolate, even if asymptomatic, really is the way we beat it and get Moray back on a level-footing with the rest of the country.”
When should I get tested?
Moray Council has opened new testing sites across the region amid a plea for residents to get tested to try and limit the spread.
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.