Swinney reported to stats watchdog over face mask graphic

Scottish Conservatives write to UK Statistics Authority about 'misleading' image posted on deputy first minister's Twitter page.

Swinney reported to stats watchdog over face mask graphic Getty Images

Deputy first minister John Swinney has been reported to the UK Statistics Authority over a graphic about face masks he posted on social media.

Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells has written to the UK’s national statistician, Sir Ian Diamond, asking for their input about the image, whic was shared on Swinney’s Twitter account.

The graphic contains unverified claims about the effectiveness of wearing a mask in preventing the transmission of coronavirus.

It includes the assertion that there is zero chance of two mask wearers standing six-feet apart catching Covid from the other person if one is infected.

The UK Statistics Authority confirmed to STV News it had received a letter of complaint about the graphic.

Wells said: “More than 48 hours after journalists and the Scottish Conservatives raised concerns about this misleading graphic, no action has been taken. 

“A message from the deputy first minister that is essentially fake news has been retweeted nearly 1000 times and has likely reached an audience in the tens or possibly even hundreds of thousands.

“We have given the SNP every opportunity to admit their mistake and fix this. It has also been raised directly with the First Minister and Scottish Government officials by the media.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended Swinney’s usage of the graphic at a coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, where she said people “should not lose sight” of the general message he was trying to convey about the importance of wearing a face mask during the pandemic.

She said: “I think we recognise that in seeking to illustrate that we should take care to use properly verified graphics, and we’ll certainly take that on board in terms of how we tweet that information in future.”

Swinney’s tweet, which remains on his Twitter page, was posted on Monday, the same day that all remaining legal restrictions were lifted in England, including the mandatory wearing of masks in indoor settings.

The whole of Scotland moved to level zero on the same day, but with some modified restrictions in place.

Sturgeon said face coverings will remain mandatory in Scotland for “some time to come”.

Wells added: “The continued use of an unverified graphic like this is potentially dangerous. It undermines the serious public health message that masks can limit the spread of the virus. It may even convince some people that there is zero risk from Covid in certain situations, which is not supported by science. 

“The repeatedly poor judgement from the SNP Government on this issue is concerning. Fake news must be stamped out and we have reported this graphic to the UK Statistics Authority for their input, since SNP ministers will not act.”

Last month, health secretary Humza Yousaf was rapped by the UK Statistics Authority due to the way he “inaccurately presented” the number of children in hospital because of Covid.

Yousaf said ten children under the age of nine had been admitted to hospital between May 24 and 30 “because of Covid”.

However, it was later found the figures include children who tested positive for the virus in the two weeks before or even during their stay in hospital, meaning coronavirus may not have been the reason for the admission.

The health secretary later said he “regrets” any alarm caused.

Ed Humpherson, director-general for regulation at the statistical watchdog, accepted Yousaf’s comments were “a genuine mistake” and praised the response from the Scottish Government to them.

But he stressed the importance of ministers being properly informed and any statistics quoted being made available.

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