Delegates from a Nike conference in Edinburgh where there was an early Covid-19 outbreak were taken on walks around the city by tour guides, it has been claimed.
The tour guide operator, which wishes to stay anonymous, said three of its workers met the Nike conference guests on February 27 but that they were never subsequently contacted by public health officials.
The guides split the delegates into smaller groups for walking tours around the Old Town.
More than 70 Nike employees from around the world attended a conference at the Hilton Carlton Hotel on February 26 and 27.
Investigations found at least 25 people linked to the event contracted Covid-19, including eight in Scotland, as first revealed by BBC Scotland’s Disclosure programme.
But the tour guide operator said its guides had no follow-up contact and were not included in any Covid-19 tracing, according to shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray.
The Edinburgh South MP said he had been approached directly by the company.
The first coronavirus case in Scotland was announced on March 2 – a Tayside resident unrelated to the conference.
It comes after reports that 20 Lloyds Banking Group employees shared hotel facilities such as food and drink with Nike staff during the period of the conference but were not contacted.
Health Protection Scotland was told on March 2 a delegate at the conference tested positive for coronavirus and the Scottish Government said it was made aware of two cases in Scotland connected to the event on March 3.
Speaking on Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon dismissed any notion of a “cover-up”, saying the government would have had no reason to do so.
Because of the various nationalities of delegates at the Nike conference, she said an international contact tracing exercise was carried out.
The First Minister added that at that stage, when there were very few coronavirus cases in Scotland, patient confidentiality was an important consideration.
Only ten of the 70 delegates were Scots, so there was a major risk they could have been identified if the information was made public, she said.
But the FM has faced calls to address parliament over the Edinburgh event, with the Scottish Conservatives calling the handling of it a “scandal”.
And while none of the tour guides who contacted Murray developed coronavirus symptoms, the Labour MP said: “As every day passes, the scale of the failure to contact-trace those who engaged with Nike delegates becomes clearer.
“How many local residents did the delegates come into close contact with during the walking tour?
“This demonstrates why the Scottish Government was wrong to cover up the ground-zero outbreak.
“If the government had been honest with the Edinburgh public about a major outbreak in the city centre, those who met with delegates could have come forward to help prevent the spread of the virus.”
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily press briefing, the First Minister said an incident management team was established to deal with the Nike conference.
It was made up of experienced public health professionals who investigated the event and determined what follow-up was required.
Accepting there are “legitimate questions” over how the incident was dealt with, Sturgeon continued: “At the time of these cases in Scotland being identified, there were only a handful of cases in the whole of Scotland that had been confirmed.
“There were only ten people, I think, from the whole of Scotland who were at this conference – you would have identified people.
“Now, I accept that some people will say patient confidentiality shouldn’t have been the consideration, but it’s not a made-up consideration. It was real and legitimate.”
The First Minister said the risk of patient identification was greater during the early part of the outbreak.
She added: “Not just with coronavirus but with any infectious disease, if there are cases identified, this incident management procedure kicks in.
“These are public health experts who will decide who should be contacted, what the basis for that is, what steps have to be taken, to make sure that all risks of onward transmission have been dealt with.
“I am not a public health expert, these are decisions rightly taken (elsewhere).
“The point I am making here is had that incident management team considered there were further people that should have been contacted, or further steps that should have been taken to protect public health, they would have done that, and they would have been entirely free to do that.”
The FM said she suspected the incident management team’s report will be published “in due course”.
Sturgeon added she took exception to anyone claiming there was a “deliberate attempt to cover up cases of the virus”.
She said: “For that to have been true of the government, it would have to have been true of non-political public health experts and that is not the case.
“What possible motive would there have been to do that?”
According to revelations in a Sunday newspaper, another two companies believe their employees became unwell after coming into contact with conference delegates.
One of the companies – a digital marketing business – shares an office building with Nike in Glasgow, which sent staff to the conference.
The other firm – a hire shop – fitted ten event attendees for kilts, with one female shop worker reportedly becoming ill.
Both companies said they were never warned about the outbreak by the Scottish Government and there was no contact tracing of their staff.
Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said: “The First Minister claims she wants to treat Scots like adults amid this pandemic, yet crucial information about how the coronavirus entered Scotland was kept secret from the public for months.
“Now we know it wasn’t just the Nike delegates who were affected, but at least three other Edinburgh businesses.
“Day after day, new information on this scandal is exposed, as is the role of senior SNP government figures, including the First Minister, in hushing it up.
“It is time Nicola Sturgeon delivered a full statement on this matter and submitted herself to questioning by the whole Scottish Parliament”
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