There is a “real risk” that the easing of coronavirus restrictions may have to be delayed in Moray if infection rates do not fall, a public health expert has warned.
Health authorities in the area are currently dealing with “uncontrolled, sustained community transmission” of Covid-19, with current restrictions failing to contain the spread.
Latest statistics show Moray had 98.1 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to May 6, significantly higher than the rate in the rest of the country.
First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is set to review coronavirus restrictions across Scotland on Tuesday and will set out the final decisions for the next easing of restrictions scheduled for May 17, when the country is due to move down from Level 3 to Level 2 of restrictions.
However, Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, warned that Moray may be in a different position from the rest of the country.
She told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “From what I understand from NHS Grampian colleagues this is not a specific outbreak as in a factory or another workplace, it is community transmission, 98 cases per 100,000, the R number is about 1.8 so people will recognise that means if you have ten people who are infected they could potentially pass it on to up to 18 so that’s very serious.
“I think what’s happened is we’ve still got a very transmissible virus, once you have clusters it does spread and it does seem to be in that local area, so I was particularly pleased to see two things, the first was opening of more testing sites in Moray and also giving good advice to people about the types of tests they can request based on symptoms or none, and the acceleration of that vaccine programme with invitations now being offered to younger adults more rapidly than elsewhere in Scotland.
“So I really hope the situation stabilises, only nine cases yesterday, let’s hope it continues to decline otherwise there is a real risk that Moray will, as we feared, be one area which might have to delay its easing a little bit just at this crucial time when the rest of the country is moving into that next stage.”
NHS Grampian is offering Covid-19 vaccinations to those aged 18-39 in Moray as part of moves to tackle the outbreak.
The health board has launched an incident management team (IMT) to try to bring the virus back under control, and is urging people to get tested even if they do not have symptoms.
Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “We have a particular problem in Moray where there has been an outbreak.
“We are concerned about the degree of spread of that outbreak and I think there is a warning in there for all of us that we need to maintain our vigilance at all times to make sure that any particular incidents don’t become too significant.
“That’s obviously the focus of the public health work that is going on within Moray, through NHS Grampian and Moray Council, and we’re working very closely with all partners there to make sure that we suppress the prevalence as much as possible.
“But, in the rest of the country, public compliance has been a strong contributory factor to reducing the prevalence of the virus along with the very successful vaccine programme and we’re now seeing really very low levels of the virus around the country.”