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Nicola Sturgeon promises to ‘reflect’ on Nike conference coronavirus outbreak as she declines to rule out probe

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

An independent inquiry could be held into the handling of the Nike conference Covid-19 outbreak, after it was revealed bank staff and tour guides were not traced after meeting delegates.

Ms Sturgeon said she would “reflect” on the approach taken to Scotland’s first coronavirus cases as she admitted it was “legitimate” to question how they were handled.

But the first minister denied making a “mistake” by failing to make the outbreak public, a step that her critics believe would have led to more of those who met conference delegates being traced and tested.

At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon did not rule out holding an independent review of the approach to the infection at the event, which was attended by 70 delegates at Edinburgh’s Hilton Carlton Hotel on February 26 and 27.

Ms Sturgeon also announced that a total of 2,134 patients have now died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 29 from 2,105 the day before.  A total of 14,655 people have tested positive for Covid-19, a rise of 61 from 14,594 the previous day.

The briefing was held as further claims emerged from people who had been connected to the international conference, which was linked to at least 25 coronavirus cases in people from various countries.

The cases, which were the first in Scotland, were not made public at the time to respect patient confidentiality.  Eight of the coronavirus cases were Scottish, six were attendees at the conference and two were secondary contacts.

Since details of the outbreak emerged in a BBC Disclosure documentary, several firms have come forward saying they had dealings with the conference but had not been contacted for testing.

Delegates taken on walking tours of Edinburgh’s Old Town

Ahead of Ms Sturgeon’s briefing, it emerged that 20 Lloyds banking staff had shared facilities with conference delegates including arrangements for eating meals.

Three guides with a tourism operator had taken groups of 20 delegates on one-hour walking tours around Edinburgh’s Old Town on the afternoon of February 27.

At the weekend, it was reported that workers who fitted kilts for delegates in Edinburgh and staff who shared an office with Nike in Glasgow became unwell shortly after the conference. None of the four groups was contacted following the outbreak.

Sturgeon does not rule out independent inquiry

Ms Sturgeon was asked if there had been an internal examination of the public health management of the outbreak and if she was considering an independent review.

“I’m not ruling anything out. I recognise the need for public assurance around all of this,” the first minister said, adding: “I will, of course, continue to consider if there are further steps we can take.”

At the briefing it was also put to Ms Sturgeon that if the outbreak had been made public people like the Lloyds bank staff would have come forward at the time. Asked if she had made a mistake, Ms Sturgeon replied: “No, I accept there are always different judgements you can come to about these things… I accepted at the outset of this and I accept now that sometimes we will get these judgements wrong. That’s not to say I think that was the case in this case, but I also accept that even in situations where I think, on balance, the judgement was right, other people will take a different view.”

Ms Sturgeon explained that an Incident Management Team (IMT) of public health professionals had been tasked with dealing with the outbreak.

More information was not released into the public domain because the low number of Scottish cases would have compromised patient confidentiality.

Ms Sturgeon admitted it was “legitimate” for people to question whether patient confidentiality should have been the “over-riding consideration”.

“Certainly as a first minister and the government, we reflect on that. We will listen carefully to those views.”

She added that the decision not to make the outbreak public did not alter the fact that it had been dealt with by the IMT.

Sturgeon denies cover-up

What, however, the first minister did take “exception” to were suggestions there had been a cover-up.

“For that to have been true of the government, it would have had to be true of the non-political public health experts and that is not the case. What possible motive would there have been to do that?” Ms Sturgeon said.

The issue was also raised at Holyrood with former Tory leader Ruth Davidson asking Health Secretary Jeane Freeman how many people were contacted by those dealing with the outbreak. Ms Freeman said she would provide a written response to Ms Davidson in due course.


Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray said: “As every day passes, the scale of the failure to contact trace those who engaged with Nike delegates becomes clearer.

Ian Murray.

“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.”

Mr Murray added:  “It’s time for Nicola Sturgeon to admit her government made a major error of judgement and for an apology to the people of Edinburgh.”