Edinburgh Council knew of Nike Conference outbreak location in March but were told to not inform councillors or the public

The decision to keep the location secret was made by Public Health Scotland and the Scottish Government to protect patient confidentiality.
The location of the first Lothian case of Covid-19 was kept secret by the Government.The location of the first Lothian case of Covid-19 was kept secret by the Government.
The location of the first Lothian case of Covid-19 was kept secret by the Government.

The public was not informed of the location of the first known coronavirus case in the Lothians despite Edinburgh City Council knowing it had originated at the Hilton Carlton Hotel.

A new report which details what the council knew and how it responded to the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in the Lothian region shows councillors were not told the location of the outbreak, despite the council’s environmental health team being informed.

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The council said sharing more information publicly and to councillors about the case was a decision made by Health Protection Scotland.

The revelation came as the number of deaths from Coronavirus calculated by the National Records of Scotland, passed 4,000, while the number of deaths reported by Public Health Scotland rose by 12 to 2,434 on Wednesday.

There have been accusations over a potential cover-up around the outbreak at the Nike Conference at the hotel in late February, but the Scottish Government has maintained details were not released due to patient confidentiality.

In the report, due to be discussed at Thursday’s policy and sustainability committee meeting, the council states it was made aware of a potential case on March 3.

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The environmental health team at the council was later told on March 6 following a confirmed positive test of the “date and location of the conference attended by the delegate, but not the patient’s identity or location”, the report states.

An email was then sent to councillors which said there had been a positive case but did not detail the location or date of the outbreak.

The report added: “The details and extent of the contact tracing were not shared with the Council, nor would officers expect to be provided with such unless the Council was directly engaged in such tracing.”

Ian Murray, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said the omission was “unacceptable” and blamed the Scottish Government’s “culture of secrecy”.

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He said: “This culture of secrecy stems right from Bute House.

“While it’s unacceptable that elected councillors weren’t told the whole truth, it was Nicola Sturgeon’s government which first decided the public should be kept in the dark - and that set the tone for the cover-up which followed.

“It’s extraordinary that details of the contact tracing were not shared with the city council, given the failure to carry this out properly in Edinburgh.

“It is now beyond doubt that the public should have been told about the outbreak, not least because it would have influenced the decision to go ahead with the Murrayfield match and other major events and gatherings.

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“It’s time for Nicola Sturgeon to apologise to the people of Edinburgh for not being honest with them.”

Public Health Scotland said their incident management team (IMT) which lead the contact tracing around the Nike Conference outbreak said that particular strain of Covid-19 was eradicated in Scotland in March.

Dr Jim McMenamin, incident director for Covid-19 at Public Health Scotland said: "There is increasing confidence that the Edinburgh conference strain has not made a significant contribution to the overall burden of COVID-19 in the Scottish population.

“Evidence suggests the strain associated with the conference accounted for only a minority of the detections in Scotland."

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A Scottish Government spokesperson added: “All Scottish cases linked to this event were contact traced and reported in details of the number of cases in Scotland at the time.

“At that stage numbers remained low, so to identify where any case contracted the virus could potentially have identified the patients concerned.

“While the Nike conference in Edinburgh was one of several routes by which COVID-19 came to Scotland, the University of Glasgow’s genome sequencing report confirms that the local public health response was effective in managing and containing spread of that particular strain of COVID-19 in Scotland.”

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said: “As outlined in the paper, sharing further information on this case more widely was a matter for the incident management team at Health Protection Scotland and no action was required from the council at that time.”