Moray will remain under Level 3 of Covid restrictions for at least a further week.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed this news in parliament on Friday, with Glasgow also remaining at the same level, as the remainder of mainline Scotland looks forward to restrictions easing from Monday.
Financial help will be offered to businesses in the regions, with £375,000 given to Moray Council to help with this.
Ms Sturgeon said that this was a “difficult” decision but she was “optimistic” that the region could move to Level 2 when the situation is reviewed at the end of next week.
She said: “In Moray, the latest available data shows that the number of cases per 100,000 is 69 and the test positivity is 1.9%.
“I’m pleased to say that both of these measures are declining and so there are now grounds for cautious optimism that the situation in Moray is improving as a result of the public health interventions that have been taken.
“However, case numbers remain more than double the Scottish average and so the judgement of the local incident management team which has informed this decision is that it is prudent for Moray to remain at Level 3 for a further week so that we can be more confident that the situation is firmly under control.
“The position will be reviewed again at the end of next week, at which point i do hope that Moray will move to Level 2.
“I know this will be disappointing for residents and businesses in Moray, I will come back to the point about business support shortly, however in my judgement it is sensible although difficult to be cautious now and allow Moray to move with more confidence to Level 2 rather than ease restrictions prematurely and risk having to go backwards later.”
Why has Moray been left behind?
Moray has experienced a surge in Covid cases in recent weeks, with the region’s infection rate hitting more than 100 per 100,000 earlier this week.
Those numbers have fallen slightly, but remain high at 69 per 100,000.
New outbreaks have also been reported in Aberlour and Keith, with mobile testing units being brought in there.
The Scottish Government has confirmed financial support for businesses in Moray which will be affected by the continuation of the Level 3 Covid restrictions.
Pubs will be unable to serve alcohol indoors, adult contact sports cannot return yet and indoor gym classes cannot restart.
Businesses that previously received financial support through the Strategic Framework Business Fund (SFBF) or the Small Accommodation Providers Paying Council Tax Support Fund will be awarded grants for up to a two-week period of up to £1,500, depending on Rateable Value.
Sectors being supported include hospitality; accommodation providers; sports, leisure and entertainment venues; and tourist attractions.
Moray Council will also offer discretionary funding to those involved in the supply chain to hospitality and tourism businesses. The criteria and further details of this will be published early next week.
Moray Council leader, Graham Leadbitter, said: “We understand the news of staying in level 3 a bit longer could give cause for concern for a number of businesses who were looking forward to opening up further from Monday.
“However, our team will distribute the financial support available as quickly as possible and, as applications are not required for the funding, we expect to process these by Friday 21 May.
“We’ll provide further details of additional discretionary funding next week and we thank our business community in advance for continuing to comply with the level 3 Covid restrictions for just a bit longer.”
‘Community outbreak coming under control’
Health chiefs believe that the Covid outbreak in Moray is starting to come under control, after being labelled “concerning, uncontrolled and sustained” last week.
An Incident Management Team was created and tasked with getting Covid numbers down, with extra testing being brought in.
Deputy director of public health at NHS Grampian, Chris Littlejohn, thanked Moray residents for their help so far.
He said: “The number of new cases identified each day has levelled off over the past week. Around 80% of new infections are in those linked to known clusters and settings, up from around a third when concern was growing about Moray numbers.
“This flattening of case numbers, and the reduction in new infections where the source is unknown, suggests that the community outbreak across Moray is coming under control.
“The current restrictions and interventions appear to be working. This is not the moment to lower our guard.
“But we hope we can see the end of the current outbreak not too far ahead if we stick with it, and by another few weeks we should see the further impact from the accelerated vaccination program.
“The incident management team view is that we need to see a sustained drop in cases, a drop in the rates per 100,000, and a sustained drop in the R-rate to below one before restrictions should be loosened in Moray. With numbers flattening already that will hopefully be achievable sooner rather than later.
“We also need to ensure that when we do relax that cases are at a low enough level it is sustainable and numbers won’t rocket 14 days later again.
“We’ve seen a huge collective effort from the people of Moray, who are working alongside us to #ProtectMoray, and for that, we cannot thank you enough.”