Scotland’s chief medical officer wrong to visit second home – Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland’s chief medical officer was wrong to visit her family’s second home in Fife during the coronavirus pandemic, which went against her own advice that all Scots should stay at home, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said she does not condone anyone breaking the guidance on preventing the spread of the virus, but added it would be “damaging not to have the ongoing advice and expertise” of Dr Catherine Calderwood as chief medical officer.

Dr Calderwood told a briefing at the Scottish Government headquarters in Edinburgh on Sunday she had also visited the home in Fife last weekend with her husband.

She has apologised after photos of herself and her family near a coastal retreat in Earlsferry were published in The Scottish Sun on Saturday.

Just days earlier, the 51-year-old tweeted a photo of her family at their main residence in Edinburgh as they clapped for the front-line NHS staff working to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Ms Sturgeon said she did not know about Dr Calderwood’s visits to her second home until Sunday night.

The First Minister said: “The chief medical officer made a mistake in travelling away from her home. Whatever her reasons for doing so, it was wrong and she knows that.

“All of us, including me, will make mistakes in these unprecedented times we are living in. When we do we must be candid about it and learn from it.”

She said Dr Calderwood is learning from her error.

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said officers had visited Dr Calderwood and issued a warning about her conduct.

Dr Calderwood said her reasons for visiting the house – a drive of more than an hour from Edinburgh – were “not legitimate” and she is “truly sorry for not following advice she gave to others”.

Despite facing calls from some politicians to stand down, she said she had spoken with Ms Sturgeon about the issue and will “continue to focus entirely” on her job of advising ministers over the outbreak.

In a statement, Mr Livingstone said: “Earlier today, local officers visited Dr Catherine Calderwood and spoke to her about her actions, reiterated crucial advice and issued a warning about her future conduct, all of which she accepted.

“The legal instructions on not leaving your home without a reasonable excuse apply to everyone. Social distancing is the key intervention to curtail the spread of coronavirus and it is essential that the instructions are followed to protect each other, take strain from the NHS and save lives.

“Individuals must not make personal exemptions bespoke to their own circumstances.”

Earlier, Dr Calderwood said in a statement: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the issue reported in the media today.

“While there are reasons for what I did, they do not justify it and they were not legitimate reasons to be out of my home.

“While I and my family followed the guidance on social distancing at all times, I understand that I did not follow the advice I am giving to others, and I am truly sorry for that.

“I know how important this advice is and I do not want my mistake to distract from that.

“I have a job to do as chief medical officer to provide advice to ministers on the path of this virus and to support the medical profession as they work night and day to save lives, and having spoken with the First Minister this morning I will continue to focus entirely on that job.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Labour have called for Dr Calderwood to resign.

Dr Catherine Calderwood
Dr Catherine Calderwood has been taking part in the daily briefings on coronavirus with Nicola Sturgeon (PA)

In a joint statement, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and Wendy Chamberlain, the MSP and MP respectively for the area where Dr Calderwood has her second home, said: “If we are going to get through this pandemic we need medical leaders who everyone can follow. It is with great regret that we say that the chief medical officer will need to go.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon also called for Dr Calderwood to stand down, Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said her position is “untenable”, and the Scottish Greens said she can “no longer credibly front” the public health campaign.

Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Mike Russell said there is no doubt Dr Calderwood’s visit – which the Scottish Government confirmed was an overnight stay to “check on a family home” – was “ill-advised”.

Mr Russell added: “I’m saying to everybody… do not go out except in the very exceptional circumstances that are listed, think about these things and remember by breaking them you are risking lives.”

Last month, the Scottish Government issued a travel warning criticising the “irresponsible behaviour” of people with second homes and campervans travelling to the Highlands in a bid to isolate.

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