NICOLA Sturgeon has been urged to “come clean” after it was reported she overruled advisors who suggested telling the public about a coronavirus outbreak at a major conference.
The First Minister, who denies she attempted to suppress information, is coming under increasing pressure over the timeline of events surrounding the Nike Conference in Edinburgh before the pandemic officially started in Scotland.
According to emails released under Freedom of Information laws, and reported by the Sunday Times, Ms Sturgeon’s closest aide Liz Lloyd said the outbreak was “a legitimate public interest matter” in an email on March 5.
She said full disclosure about the incident at the conference, on February 25-27 2020, “could be reassuring information for the public around the increase in numbers, demonstrate we’re still at containment [and] that contact tracing works”.
Ms Lloyd indicated that this view was shared by Ms Sturgeon, then health secretary Jeane Freeman and then deputy Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Gregor Smith.
However the following day, March 6, then CMO Catherine Calderwood wrote in an email that telling the public could breach patient confidentiality and impede efforts to trace people who had been in contact with infected people.
Ms Sturgeon appears to have sided with Ms Calderwood, as the information was not made public until a BBC documentary three months later revealed that there was a case of Covid at the event.
Ms Calderwood resigned from her post after she broke lockdown rules when she visited her second home, and Mr Smith took over.
Last week, health protection Scotland confirmed that a single case of Covid among 71 delegates at the Nike conference led to 38 further infections, but no deaths were linked to the conference.
Ms Sturgeon has denied that the outbreak was covered up but said she understood concerns over the way information about the conference cases was handled.
The situation is to examined in more detail during a public inquiry into the handling of coronavirus, which is due to be established before the end of the year.
Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “These revelations must be scrutinised fully by any public inquiry. Whilst we knew Calderwood had advised against transparency on grounds of patient confidentiality and the first minister sided with her, it hadn’t been appreciated until now that the first minister did so against the advice of her own health secretary and chief adviser.”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP, said: “Nicola Sturgeon must urgently come clean on the scale of this cover-up. These are further damning revelations about the earliest known outbreak of the virus in Scotland.
“There should have been full transparency from the First Minister and the SNP Government at the earliest opportunity. As someone working in the health service as Covid struck, I know we would have been able to respond better if we knew exactly what we were dealing with and when.
“Nicola Sturgeon must be upfront. Was this the only occasion where she overruled medical advisers and senior colleagues? Is this the only time the public were kept in the dark over an outbreak?
“She has regularly claimed to have followed the science during the pandemic, but went against one of her chief medical advisers at the very outset.
“The public deserve to know the whole truth as quickly as possible surrounding this conference.”
The Scottish government said “all appropriate steps” were taken to protect public health following the Nike conference. More than 60 contacts were traced in Scotland and about 50 others in England.
A spokesman said: “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.”