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, who was issued with a police warning over her conduct and is facing calls to resign, 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, a drive of more than an hour from Edinburgh, 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 and has offered to do whatever is in the interests of the country, adding: “In my view, that would not be her resignation.”
Dr Calderwood told the briefing: “I did not follow the advice I’m giving to others and I’m truly sorry for that… what I did was wrong, I’m very sorry. It will not happen again.
“I know how important the advice is that I have issued. I do not want my mistake to distract from that.
“This was a mistake, human error and there are no excuses.
“I can’t justify being away from my own home in Edinburgh and there are no reasons I could give you that would justify that.
“I have made a mistake, I have let people down, I’ve let the public in Scotland down, I’ve let my NHS colleagues down, and I apologise unreservedly for that.”
In a statement after Sunday’s briefing, Ms Sturgeon confirmed Dr Calderwood was withdrawing from the daily updates and she would also no longer feature in the Scottish Government’s advertising campaign.
She said: “I am acutely aware of the importance of public trust in the advice the government is giving to stay at home in order to save lives and protect our NHS.
“To maintain that trust we will be revising our public information campaign and the chief medical officer will be withdrawing from media briefings for the foreseeable future.
“She will continue to provide the Scottish Government with the scientific and medical advice on the spread of coronavirus.”
Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said officers had visited Dr Calderwood and issued a warning about her conduct.
The chief medic also apologised for taking up police time and said she did not want to make the job of officers harder.
She added: “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.
“Having spoken with the First Minister this morning my intention is to continue to focus on my job.”
Mr Livingstone said in a statement: “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.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Labour have called for Dr Calderwood to resign.
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.
Asked about Dr Calderwood at the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the matter was for the Scottish Government – but stressed the social distancing guidelines apply to everyone.