A public health expert has warned Moray may be excluded from any further relaxation of Covid rules after it recorded the highest infection rate in Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon is expected to outline changes to the lockdown restrictions tomorrow, which would come into force from May 17.
It is expected that the country will move down to Level 2, with indoor gatherings permitted, allowing people to meet up again inside homes.
But Professor Linda Bauld, from Edinburgh University, has said that while progress has been “excellent” in other parts of the country, Moray is falling well behind – and may not get to enjoy those freedoms as a result.
‘Well within threshold’ to move to Level 2
Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, the public health professor said: “We’re on track at the moment, progress has been excellent.
“We have one local authority that’s a particular concern, but other than that we are well into that threshold of Level 2 that the Scottish Government has set.
“I would expect that we will see the easing as planned and, of course, probably the most significant change for people around the country is that four people from two households will be able to meet indoors.
“That’s something that many, many people are looking forward to in each other’s homes.”
What’s going on in Moray?
Currently, Moray has recorded the highest Covid-19 infection rate in Scotland, a fact which is reflected in the school absences.
The outbreak is understood to be community transmission-related, not linked to “a factory or another workplace”.
Prof Bauld added: “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.”
However, she emphasised she was “particularly pleased” to see the opening of more testing sites in Moray and also “giving good advice to people” about the types of test they can request.
She added: “And the acceleration of that vaccine programme, with invitations now being offered to younger adults more rapidly than elsewhere in Scotland.
“I really hope the situation stabilises – only nine cases yesterday.
“Let’s hope it continues to decline. Otherwise, there’s a real risk that Moray will, as we feared, be one area which may have to delay its easing a little bit.
“Just at this crucial time when the rest of the country is moving into the next stage.”
On future outbreaks
When asked if community transmitted outbreaks are more difficult to deal with than those linked to events or workplaces, Ms Bauld said having a “geographically specific-contained outbreak” could be traced back to a particular environment.
She added: “If you’ve got a community spread, where you try and find the index case and who passed it to whom, it’s more complex.
“It’s a much bigger task and that’s what you see in Moray, having to trace all the contacts and really do, not only forward, but also backward contact tracing.
“On a positive note, when the incidence prevalence of the disease is so low in the vast majority of the country – Test and Protect is well resourced to operate extremely efficiently.
“That’s what they’re trying to do in Moray now. It takes a bit of time to get on top of it, but moving forward we will have outbreaks.
“And I’m sure colleagues will be working very hard to deal with those.”
She added that she is “confident” that progress will continue this summer.
As Boris expected to allow hugs in England, professor urges ‘be sensible’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce this afternoon that friends and family will be able to hug and mix indoors from next week in England, despite growing concerns over the spread of the India coronavirus variant.
When asked if she expected Ms Sturgeon to make a similar announcement regarding hugging, she said that Scotland has taken a “slightly different approach”, where closer contact was always permitted for smaller children.
Prof Bauld said: “From a public health perspective, I think the main thing I would say is, behaviourally, people need to make their own judgements, be sensible, but recognise that the virus hasn’t gone away.”
Looking at the ONS infection survey figures, she said there are still one in 760 people in Scotland that have the virus.
If people are to embrace “breathing directly towards somebody else” there is still a risk.
She added: “We’re all looking forward to it. Let’s be sensible and let’s hear whether there’s specific guidance or mention of that when we get the plans later this week.”
The planned route map out of lockdown for Scotland suggests that from May 17, hospitality venues will be permitted to remain open until 10.30pm indoors with alcohol permitted at this stage, with a 10pm closing time for beer gardens.
Contact sport for adults can also resume at this point, and indoor group exercise will restart.
Cinemas, arcades and bingo halls can also reopen, with small scale outdoor and indoor events allowed to resume, subject to rules relating to capacity.