Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of covering up an outbreak of coronavirus linked to a Nike conference in Scotland’s capital by an Edinburgh MP.
Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, has written to the First Minister asking when she knew of the outbreak, and if introducing lockdown when coronavirus was first discovered in Scotland could have saved more lives.
When asked about the Covid-19 outbreak linked to the Nike conference at the Hilton Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh on February 26-27, Sturgeon rejected suggestions of a cover-up as “complete and utter nonsense”.
A BBC Disclosure documentary suggested that one visiting attendee passed on the virus, with investigations finding at least 25 people linked to the event contracted Covid-19, including eight in Scotland.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s press briefing on Tuesday, Sturgeon said the details were not made public because of concerns about patient confidentiality, which the Edinburgh South MP describes as “hard to comprehend” given the size of Edinburgh’s population.
In his letter, Murray said: “It appears to me, and to the people of Edinburgh, that your government kept this outbreak from the public when it would clearly have been in the public interest to inform them.
“You said a few weeks ago that you wanted a ‘grown-up conversation’ with the public on Covid-19. I am therefore compelled to ask why you believe the people of Edinburgh are not grown up enough to be told of a major outbreak of the virus in their own city centre?”
Murray added: “There are many reasons why there is public concern about this cover-up.
“At the time of this outbreak in February, we were still several weeks away from lockdown.
“It is now apparent that your government was too slow to enter lockdown, but had this information been made public at the time then we may have been able to enter lockdown earlier and save more lives.”
The first publicly-confirmed Scottish coronavirus case was reported in Tayside on March 1, which is believed to have originated from someone travelling from Italy rather than being linked to the Edinburgh conference.
Mass gatherings north of the border were not banned until March 16, and lockdown measures introduced on March 23.
On Tuesday, Sturgeon said Health Protection Scotland set up an incident management team when the virus transmission became clear and contact-tracing had been carried out.
She said: “I was satisfied then and I am satisfied now that all appropriate steps were taken.
“At the time I probed whether we should be putting more information into the public domain.
“The advice, which is advice I accepted, is that it was not appropriate.”
She added: “One of the reasons for that was patient confidentiality at a time when the number of cases remained as low as they were.
“To identify where any case contracted the virus could potentially have identified the patients concerned.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As the First Minister has said, all appropriate steps were taken to ensure public health was protected.
“The group at increased risk of Covid-19 were all identified and all contacts were traced, so public health authorities were satisfied that there was no further infection risk.
“NHS Lothian and Edinburgh City Council also worked closely with the conference venue to provide advice for close contacts of delegates and infection prevention and control considerations.
“All of the cases linked to this event were traced by their close contact with this case, or contact with conference delegates who tested positive after the event. Therefore it is not an example of community transmission, which would require a confirmed case, with no known history of international travel to a risk area, or link to close contact of such a case.
“As the health secretary made clear yesterday, the Scottish Government has been entirely consistent in its handling and publication of information relating to positive cases of Covid-19 in Scotland.
“All contact related cases were reported in a manner that would ensure the index case could not be identified, and this is the approach the Scottish Government has consistently adopted.”