Health bosses warned of a “perfect storm” which could be fuelled by the easing of lockdown as Covid cases surged in Moray ahead of the May Day weekend.
The majority of cases have been detected in Elgin and the area currently has one of the highest rates of Covid-19 in the country.
Residents have been urged to act responsibly and take up asymptomatic testing to ward off a further spread of infections.
Susan Webb, NHS Grampian’s public health director, said: “We really are on a worrying trajectory in Moray and it is vital everyone ensures they are sticking to the rules to ensure the area isn’t left behind as the rest of the country unlocks.
“There is a real fear, that with unlocking and the May Day weekend, if individuals don’t act responsibly and stick with the guidelines they could create the perfect storm in the area.
“Until now Moray has escaped the worst of the pandemic, but we could now see Moray get left behind as the country unlocks.”
Since April 10, the region has seen more than 100 new cases, with half of those in the last seven days.
In the last week Moray accounted for close to 50% of Grampian’s cases – but is home to less than 17% of the population.
The rate per 100,000 people in the area currently sits at 50.1. In Aberdeen City the rate is 15.7 while Aberdeenshire is at 8.4.
“If people, who have no symptoms, are out shopping or getting a coffee we’d encourage them to pop past to get a test and offer themselves some reassurance and help protect the community from those asymptomatic cases,” added Ms Webb.
“It is vital we get the virus back under control in Moray and not let it run away from us.”
Sam Thomas, chief nurse for Moray, said: “Residents in Moray have done exceptionally well in protecting both themselves and the region’s health care to this point, it is vital that we don’t let that slip as we continue to work and live with COVID-19 and the current levels of community transmission we are seeing in Moray.
“If you have any symptoms at all please go and get tested – it protects not only your family, neighbours, friends, but also our hospitals, businesses, care homes and services across Moray.
“It cannot be stressed enough how much controlling spread has been allowing us to restart other parts of the health care system locally.
Moray to date has had a lower number of cases than most regions in Scotland, seeing less community transmission and a high uptake of vaccination across the population.
“It could well be,” added Ms Thomas, “as a result of this success, we have less immunity in the wider population and a higher susceptibility to the virus at this point.”
Moray Council’s chief executive, Roddy Burns, said it is vital to get as many people tested as possible to keep the situation under control and protect the local economy.
“We need to hit this hard and catch this early,” he said. “We do not want this to escalate and impact our ability to open up Moray’s healthcare services or economy.
“If each of us takes personal responsibility to protect ourselves we’ll be able to let our businesses thrive and welcome back tourists.
“As hard as it may feel, don’t meet people indoors, don’t hug each other, don’t meet in large groups. We’ve come so far and we need to keep going until we get to the end.”
Moray’s tourism businesses are vital for the local economy and sustain thousands of people’s livelihoods.
Laurie Piper, CEO of Visit Moray Speyside said: “We must do all we can to protect the region and let us start to open up as planned. We can’t afford to let the hard work and sacrifices of the past months be lost.”
Classic Covid symptoms include a continuous cough, fever, and loss of taste of smell.
But people with extended symptoms, like general weakness, sore throat, headache, runny nose, chills and diarrhea, which are not distinctive Covid symptoms have also been asked to get tested.
Anyone with symptoms should book a test via nhsinform.scot or call 0800 028 2816.
When booking a test due to these symptoms, individuals should select the “My local council or health protection team has asked me to get a test” option.