Scottish Government should admit Covid Nike cover-up and move on – Ian Murray MP

We should all thank Nicola Sturgeon for her work during the Covid crisis, but she needs to own up to the mishandling of the Nike conference coronavirus outbreak in February, writes Ian Murray MP.
UK Nike stores were deep-cleaned after the Edinburgh outbreak (Picture: Chuck Burton/AP/Shutterstock)UK Nike stores were deep-cleaned after the Edinburgh outbreak (Picture: Chuck Burton/AP/Shutterstock)
UK Nike stores were deep-cleaned after the Edinburgh outbreak (Picture: Chuck Burton/AP/Shutterstock)

Cover-up: “An attempt to prevent people discovering the truth.” That’s the dictionary definition of a cover-up, but it could alternatively state: “What happened when there was a coronavirus outbreak at a Nike conference in Edinburgh.”

People were prevented from discovering the truth about the February ground-zero outbreak in our city.

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It took a BBC investigation, showing an earlier lockdown could have saved 2,000 lives, to uncover the facts, and then for worried workers and businesses to get in touch with me, before the true scale of the scandal became clear. There was a catastrophic failure to contact trace those who met with Nike delegates. Workers actually fell ill with flu-like symptoms and had no idea why.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South (Picture: Ian Rutherford)Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South (Picture: Ian Rutherford)
Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South (Picture: Ian Rutherford)

No matter how much the First Minister protests, this is a cover-up.

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If this had been a conference in Newcastle, attended by some Scots, and the UK Government decided not to tell the public, the SNP leader and her party would be rightly furious (the UK Government didn’t inform the public either, despite Nike stores across the UK closing for disinfecting purposes).

The First Minister has resorted to “patient confidentiality” claims, when nobody is asking for names – and hiding behind this is contrary to Scottish public health laws anyway. Legislation she passed herself as Health Secretary.

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She then passed the buck to health professionals, refusing to take any responsibility for her own Government’s decision.

And worst of all, she has played the “politicise” card. To suggest that seeking answers on behalf of concerned residents and scrutinising government is “politicised” is a dangerous path.

I know the First Minister is under an incredible amount of pressure during this crisis (we should all thank her) and any government will make missteps during an unprecedented situation like this. What we need is for governments to admit to those and learn from them, not double down on excuses.

The reason the Nike issue is so important is because of the timeline of events. When the conference was held, lockdown was still some way off and mass gatherings were still being held. It wasn’t clear if the public would accept a lockdown. But being told that one person with coronavirus attended a 70-person conference in Edinburgh, and 25 people subsequently became infected would have changed the public discourse.

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It would have encouraged people to closely follow public health guidelines and built support for lockdown measures.

It may have led to calls for big sporting events such as the Scotland v France at Murrayfield to be called off. It would certainly have given fans the chance to decide if they still wanted to go. The public had to be informed so they could make different choices.

And it would have encouraged people such as the kilt-fitters and tour guides who met delegates to come forward, perhaps preventing further spread.

But it’s not just about looking backwards. Making this outbreak public would have led to earlier calls for a “test, trace, isolate” strategy – something we now accept is vital to supressing coronavirus.

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Yet today we remain far behind the rest of the UK and other countries on this. So, I make no apology for continuing to probe on behalf of the people I represent. It’s my job.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always easy in Scottish politics when some choose to see everything though a constitutional prism.

No, it is not “anti-Scottish” to question the Scottish Government, just as it isn’t anti-British to question the UK Government.

It is not healthy for our democracy to attempt to shut down dissenting voices, and it certainly won’t help us chart the best path through this coronavirus crisis.

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We should learn from errors and apply those lessons to the national response to Covid-19, so that we can all be fully informed and get through this crisis together.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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