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Moray Council leader hopes it will be ‘days rather than weeks’ until region can join rest of country in Level 2

A new mobile test site was announced in Kirkcaldy
A new mobile test site was announced in Kirkcaldy

Moray Council leader Graham Leadbitter said it is “disappointing” the region is unlikely to move to Level 2 with the rest of the mainland, but residents and business owners are ready to “stand still for a short while” to bring the outbreak under control.

It comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday confirmed major changes to the current Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in Scotland.

From May 17, Scotland will be able to move to Level 2 of the coronavirus roadmap, allowing for a significant relaxation to the current rules.

However, Ms Sturgeon said it was probable that Moray would remain in Level 3 due to an increase in cases.

If the decision is to keep Moray in Level 3, travel in and out of the area from the rest of Scotland will be banned.

A final decision will be made on Friday.

‘The least worst option’

Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, Mr Leadbitter said the alternative of a full lockdown would be “horrendous” and called the possible decision to remain in Level 3 “the least worst option”.

He said: “It’s been a bit of a tricky situation for the last few weeks with the numbers building, and the public health’s response in full strength to that.

The main difference that it will make is that people won’t be able to travel to other regions, because you won’t be able to travel between a higher region and a lower region. Or the other way around for that matter.

“I think it’s fair to say that it’s very disappointing that we’re in this position.

The new test centre set up on Elgin High Street

“But the feeling that I got, certainly from hospitality businesses, they would rather stand still for a short period of time than go backwards to a Level 4 lockdown.

“It would be really horrendous for everybody, including businesses. That would be really difficult for the hospitality sector.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s the least worst option at this stage.”

Has the source of the outbreak been identified?

Mr Leadbitter said public health officials have been “very clear” that there are multiple sources.

He added: “It’s sustained community transmission. So, there were cases in schools – not transmitted necessarily within the schools, but because the schools are part of the wider community.

“We see cases among children in schools, we see cases in workplaces and we see cases in wider families.

“And a lot of this is because – with most vulnerable people vaccinated – often younger people are catching Covid, and often it’s asymptomatic.

“So, it can go undetected and spread to the community before people realise.”

When asked if he believed there might still be a chance the Scottish Government could have a “change of heart” and move Moray to Level 2, he said: “I’m always hopeful for the best. I’ve always been one to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

“I would like us to be in Level 2 by next week, but realistically it’s probably unlikely, but it’s still a possibility.”

‘Days rather than weeks to move to Level 2’

According to conversations on the ground with public health officials, Mr Leadbitter said there is confidence the region is on the right track to tackling the outbreak.

This is due to a combination of mass testing and an accelerated vaccination programme.

Mr Leadbitter said: “Beyond next week, we’ll be talking about days rather than weeks.

“There’s a huge effort going on with asymptomatic testing, with PCR testing – mass PCR testing at one of our local schools, which is testing 1,000 students and staff.

“That combined with an acceleration of the vaccination programme, the roll-out of the vaccine for 18 to 30-year-olds in Moray is already having a significant impact.

“I’m hearing a lot of confidence from public health officials that they believe we will days rather than weeks before we move down to level two.”

Scottish isles will move directly to Level 1

Norman A Macdonald, convener of the Western Isles Council, welcomed the announcement that the islands will move to Level 1 from Monday ahead of the originally anticipated shift.

Mr Macdonald, who also appeared on Good Morning Scotland, said: “We very much welcome yesterday’s announcement that island areas, including the Western Isles, are to move to Covid Level 1 from Monday.

“It is testament to the vaccination programme that we have been running with NHS Western Isles and other agencies over a period of months now, and I think that is what has given the government confidence that we can now move to Level 1.

“It certainly means a relaxation of indoor hospitality and that people can meet and greet in a way that we haven’t been able to do until now.

“Also some of the businesses that have been closed down for almost a year now are going to be able to open and provide opportunities for people to purchase and go and enjoy an evening meal with a drink or two maybe.”

Norman A MacDonald

Level 0: ‘The ultimate aim’

Mr Macdonald was asked if there was any advice the Western Isles could offer to leaders in Moray after outbreaks were identified previously in Lewis and Barra.

The council convener said it would be “very difficult” to compare the areas due to the scale of outbreaks, but added that he hopes the virus can be brought under control and that Moray can move down the levels with other parts of the country in due course.

The Western Isles is heavily reliant on the tourism trade, with Mr Macdonald conceding that despite the relaxation of restrictions, there is still a long way to go to recovery from the pandemic.

“Some of the major issues we are going to be facing, we have been heavily reliant on tourism over the years and that is just simply not happening to any great scale at the moment and that is something that we are going to have to work our way through,” he added.

“There are other issues for us in terms of our financial position given the amount of time we have been in lockdown and I think it is going to be quite difficult for people who have been working from home to make the adjustment to going back to their offices in the council and in other areas.”

‘Our vaccination programme has been really successful’

Mr Macdonald said he believes that the success of the Western Isles vaccination programme should ease some concern in the community.

He added: “I think that there will be for some people some concerns about that but given the number of people in our population at the moment who have been given the vaccines, it is something that is less of an issue for us.

“Our vaccination programme has been really successful, particularly over the last month or so, and a significant proportion of our population have had their first and second vaccines.

“I think that is what is giving us some confidence, although, we still have to be very careful and encourage people to still use their face masks when they are out with other people.

“I think that is what is going to hopefully lead us into tier zero in the next few months or so and that would be our ultimate aim.

“We also have some real challenges in terms of our economic situation and we will certainly be looking to government to support us in that instance.”

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