Where is Moray? Why council area in Scotland has outbreak of Covid cases - and if it will move to Level 2

Mainland Scotland moved into Level 2 restrictions from 17 May - but Moray and Glasgow are stuck in Level 3 due to a surge in coronavirus infections

Most of mainland Scotland has moved into Level 2 restrictions, but there are two notable exceptions.

Both Moray and Glasgow have remained in Level 3 for an extra week due to a surge in Covid cases in the council areas.

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While millions of Scots are able to meet indoors and enjoy alcoholic drinks in restaurants and bars from Monday 17 May, those living in Moray and Glasgow are stuck with stricter restrictions than the rest of the country.

The seaside fishing village of Cullen Bay in Moray (Shutterstock)

But where is Moray - and why is there a Covid outbreak there?

Here is everything you need to know.

Where is Moray?

Moray is a council area situated in northeastern Scotland.

It has a portion of the Moray Firth - famed for its resident population of dolphins - on its northern coastline, while in the south the area extends from the Cairngorms National Park.

The council area, which has a population of around 95,820, borders Aberdeenshire and the Highlands.

And the River Spey, one of Scotland’s longest rivers which is renowned for its salmon, crosses Moray.

Moray was formerly known as Elginshire, after the medieval town that lies within the historic council area.

The area was actually one of the seven traditional provinces of ancient Scotland, providing two kings - Macbeth and Lulach - for the country.

Today, Moray is known for its whisky distilleries in the whisky region of Speyside, and its spectacular coastline which has the advantage of low rainfall.

Why is there a Covid outbreak in Moray?

The coronavirus infection rate in Moray is sitting at about 69 cases per 100,000 - which is above the 50-case threshold to go into Level 2.

Cases were also expected to rise in the area in the coming days as the effect of relaxing restrictions in April begins to show.

Last week, Ms Sturgeon described the situation in Moray as “uncontrolled, sustained community transmission” of the virus during her coronavirus update.

Elgin and Keith are thought to be the hotspots of the outbreak.

Dozens of cases have been associated with Elgin Academy in particular.

NHS Grampian is running a new PCR mobile testing unit at the school for staff and pupils after more than 50 cases were reported there.

Experts have said the Moray outbreak consists of 21 significant networks in total.

It is possible that the Moray Covid situation is due to the council area experiencing low cases of the virus throughout the pandemic, which has resulted in low levels of immunity.

"The situation in Moray, together with the emergence of new variants globally, should be a sharp reminder to all of us that the virus remains a real threat,” the First Minister said.

The vaccination of younger adults in the area was also recently accelerated due to the surge in cases.

Will Moray move to Level 2?

The council area remained in Level 3 on Monday (17 May), following confirmation from Ms Sturgeon on Friday that it would not move into Level 2 with the rest of the mainland.

There are significant differences in restrictions in Moray compared to everywhere else in Scotland.

For example, indoor meetings - including hugging - aren’t permitted between friends and family and hospitality restrictions have stayed the same, with pubs and cafes only able to serve alcohol outside.

And indoor entertainment venues, such as cinemas, theatres, comedy clubs and concert halls, have stayed closed.

A decision on whether Moray will move to Level 2 is expected this week.

The outbreak in the council area appears to have stabilised in recent days.

It is possible that Glasgow might have to remain in Level 3 for longer than an extra week due to a sharp rise in cases, overtaking Moray.

There are also concerns that East Renfrewshire, which has also overtaken Moray in terms of case rate, will move into Level 3.