Jeane Freeman denies 'failure' over Nike conference contact tracing

Jeane Freeman has said there was no failure over how contact tracing was done at the controversial Nike conference.Jeane Freeman has said there was no failure over how contact tracing was done at the controversial Nike conference.
Jeane Freeman has said there was no failure over how contact tracing was done at the controversial Nike conference.
Jeane Freeman has denied any ‘failure in approach’ around the contact tracing of the coronavirus-hit Nike conference, despite more cases being revealed.

The Health Secretary defended government’s actions over the controversial conference held in Edinburgh in February, after two Scottish firms disclosed their staff became unwell after being in contact with delegates.

One of the companies is a digital marketing business, understood to share a Glasgow office building with Nike, and the other is an Edinburgh kilt hire shop, which fitted ten event goers for outfits.

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The Scottish Government has been accused of covering up the the outbreaks arising from the conference, now being referred to as Scotland’s Covid-19 ‘ground zero’.

Management at the two affected companies said they were not warned about the outbreak, there was no 'contact tracing' of staff, and they only found out about the outbreak after the BBC Disclosure programme last week which claimed one of 70 delegates brought the virus into Edinburgh.

Following the BBC programme, the First Minister confirmed she had been told delegates had tested positive, but that ‘patient confidentiality’ meant the news was not made public. She has also said any suggestion of a cover-up was ‘complete and utter nonsense’.

Today asked about the revelations at the daily government briefing, Ms Freeman said there had been no “failure of approach”, and appeared to put responsibility for the lack of tracing on the infected delegate.

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“There was no failure in the approach, but if we’re not told all the contacts someone has had, we cannot trace,” she said. “We can only base it on what the trigger case tells us – here’s where I’ve been and who I’ve been in contact with.”

She added: “All the proper clinically-led standard protocols were followed. The incident management team was convened, we reported the first case, which was not linked to that conference on Sunday 1st March, we were informed of two more cases on 3rd March and reported them on the Wednesday morning with normal reporting of cases.

“All the normal contact tracing approach was used then and we use it now and we will use it as we continue. Contact tracing sits on the information given by the individual who is the trigger case. They are asked where they’ve been and who they’ve been in contact with – and that’s somewone within 15 minutes or more and within a distance of two metres.

“With what people tell us, the clinical professionals in health protection then go and trace those contacts and advise them to isolate, advise them they’ve been in contact with someone with the symptoms, and what to do if they develop symptoms, and then if they did, trace their contacts.”

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However digital marketing boss David Hamilton said he and his colleagues shared communal spaces at the conference.

He said: “I found out about this through the BBC documentary. There was a whole set of activity going on, and no one had the courtesy to even let us know.

“We had about three staff who were certain they got coronavirus but I think that extends to about four or five. One was close to being hospitalised.

“If Nike knew what was going on, they should have been duty-bound to at least inform companies sharing the same space. You would think common decency would have led you to that.

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“We have a very small, shared lift. You'd very rarely be alone in there. Buttons, handrails... it could have easily been on there. No one from the Scottish Government got in touch with anybody in our office.”

A spokesperson for the Edinburgh kilt hire shop, also understood to be affected by the outbreak, is reported as saying an employee had to ‘take time off work due to flu-like symptoms’ having fitted delegates. It is understood other staff also became ill with coronavirus symptoms.

Scotland’s National Clinical Director, Jason Leith, also defended the approach taken, despite one delegate apparently being capable of infecting one third of the conference.

“The contact tracing process relies on information from the individual from the first case, and you move from there,” he said. “They were interviewed by experienced contact tracers.

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“This wasn’t a mass gathering, quite a small group of people from different countries, and an internationl incident mangement team was set up very quickly and contact tracing done in a number of countries.”

He added: “This was when we were in the delay phase when there were very few cases in the country, or across the UK. It was absolutely the right thing to do at that point in the pandemic.

“When that began to change, and we saw sustained community transmission and we couldn’t work out where cases had come from – this one was clear where the case had come from, from somebody who had travelled – then we changed the guidelines for the population and our ability to test, trace and isolate.

“So we’ve moved from a delay to a supression phase and now we’re in a new phase, thinking about how we might come out of this lockdown.

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“And I’m sorry but that’s how it has to be. You have to follow the science and viral spread as you go through each of these stages.”

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