Why were we not told about the Nike conference Covid-19 cases? – John McLellan

As the coronavirus crisis in Scottish care homes continues to mount, questions are inevitably mounting about the Scottish Government’s response, not least the decision to end testing in early March and as the total death toll went through 3000 whether an earlier lockdown would have saved more lives.
25 people who attended the Nike conference in the Hilton Carlton Hotel in February became infected with Covid-1925 people who attended the Nike conference in the Hilton Carlton Hotel in February became infected with Covid-19
25 people who attended the Nike conference in the Hilton Carlton Hotel in February became infected with Covid-19

On March 2, nearly 600 calls were received by the NHS 24 contact centre at Clydebank’s Golden Jubilee National Hospital, so public concern was clearly beginning to mount. It turns out this was the same day as Scotland’s first case of Covid-19 infection was identified.

It also now appears that the case was linked to the conference run by sportswear giant Nike at the Hilton Carlton Hotel on North Bridge on February 26-27. Only thanks to the BBC do we now know that at least 25 people at that conference became infected, eight of whom lived in Scotland with one in the Lothians.

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On March 3 the government agency Health Protection Scotland tied in notification of two infections with the Hilton Carlton conference and there was then a flurry of activity, with the potential problem flagged to Edinburgh City Council and Scottish Government ministers told that evening.

The Scottish Government now says the case was confirmed in a press release on March 4, but the release gave very little indication of the seriousness of the circumstances or of the possibility that scores of staff at the hotel would have come into contact with infected people.

“Two further patients in Scotland have tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of cases to three,” it said. “Both patients are currently clinically well and are receiving appropriate clinical care. One patient is resident in the Grampian area, the second patient is resident in the Ayrshire area. One patient has recently travelled to northern Italy and the other has had contact with a known positive case.”

Then, as now, the Scottish Government insisted no more information could be released because of patient confidentiality – the same excuse it gave for not revealing last year a patient had died in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital because of water contamination – but it is stretching credibility to claim that the remote danger of compromising medical privacy should trump the public’s right to know there had been a significant outbreak of a potentially killer disease at a major city centre venue.

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“All individuals who had attended the conference were contact traced. The close contacts of cases in Scotland were also traced,” said the Scottish Government’s statement this week, without mentioning staff and their families.

City council officials now say they did not receive confirmation of the outbreak until March 5, by which time the press release had been published, so if Government officials knew enough to put out a statement why were civic officials not kept in the loop?

Perhaps not wishing to rock boats, senior city officers also back the government line that there has been no cover-up and no secrecy, but even ward councillors only found out about an incidence of Covid-19 contagion through the BBC two months later.

Two Scottish Government Covid-19 press releases were published on March 4, the other about First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s visit to the Clydebank contact centre. “The Scottish Government and NHS Scotland are well-prepared to deal with a coronavirus outbreak,” she said. “But the public also have a big role to play in helping us contain any potential spread of coronavirus in Scotland for as long as possible.”

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That’s true enough, but if there was no cover-up about what happened at the Hilton Carlton why then was the Edinburgh public not trusted enough to be informed about what had happened at the heart of this city? Why did city officials not think it appropriate to inform elected representatives?

If this isn’t a cover-up, it looks very much like one.