Nicola Sturgeon must apologise for 'hiding' early Covid outbreak, says Edinburgh Labour MP Ian Murray
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The conference was held at Edinburgh’s Hilton Carlton Hotel on North Bridge in late February 2020, more than three weeks before lockdown began, and just before Scotland's first official Covid-19 case was announced on March 1.
A single case among the 71 delegates was linked to 38 further infections, but news of the outbreak only emerged weeks later in a TV documentary.
Ms Sturgeon denied a cover-up, but it was revealed at the weekend that emails show the First Minister’s then chief of staff Liz Lloyd, then Health Secretary Jeane Freeman and then deputy chief medical officer Gregor Smith believed it should have been made public and they were overruled after then chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood advised Ms Sturgeon – who appears initially also to have favoured making it public – against the move.
On March 5, 2020, Ms Lloyd wrote: "Cab Sec, FM and Gregor ... are conscious that a number of Scotland's cases now connect to one event – and that we are at a point where that could be reassuring information for the public around the increase in numbers, demonstrate we're still at containment, that contact tracing works and be a legitimate public interest matter."
But Dr Calderwood emailed the following day: "My strong advice would be not to say anything here specifically naming the conference risks breaching patient confidentiality as a delegate list will be available... any statement would require international sign off – this would be extremely difficult due to the ongoing investigation and the sensitivity here."
Amid criticism of the decision to remain silent about the outbreak Ms Sturgeon repeatedly rejected claims of a cover-up. At a Covid brefing on May 12, 2020, she branded such accusations “complete and utter nonsense”.
But Mr Murray, who is MP for Edinburgh South and Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary, believes the emails revealed at the weekend confirm the cover up claims.
He said: “These shocking revelations show that Nicola Sturgeon deliberately kept Edinburgh people in the dark about the first Covid outbreak.
“For over a year, the First Minister has denied there was a cover up, including statements to parliament which breaks the ministerial code, but it is now clear that even her own ministers weren’t comfortable with the secrecy.
“The SNP Health Secretary and other senior advisers wanted to see details of the first outbreak published at the time, but the First Minister intervened to cover it up.
“Nicola Sturgeon must apologise for hiding an outbreak when lives could have been saved if she had taken early action.
“This matter and other mistakes at the beginning of the pandemic must be thoroughly investigated in the Covid public inquiry.”
The Scottish Government has said that all appropriate steps were taken to protect public health following the Nike conference, with more than 60 contacts traced in Scotland and about 50 in England, and that genome sequencing has shown the local public health response was effective in managing and containing spread of that particular strain of Covid-19 in Scotland.