Coronavirus: Scotland’s chief medical officer apologises after breaking lockdown to visit second home

Kate Ng
Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood talks at a coronavirus briefing at St Andrews House: Getty Images

Scotland’s chief medical officer has apologised for breaking coronavirus lockdown measures to visit her second home in Fife, which first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she was “wrong” to do.

Dr Catherine Calderwood apologised “unreservedly” and said she would continue to focus on her job in a statement. She added her reasons for visiting her second home were “not legitimate reasons to be out of my home” and understood she did not follow her own advice.

“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,” added Dr Calderwood.

“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 apology comes after The Scottish Sun published photos of Dr Calderwood and her family near a coastal retreat in Earlsferry, more than an hour away from Edinburgh, late on Saturday.

Days before, the 51-year-old posted a photo of her family at their main residence in Edinburgh on Twitter, as they joined the rest of the nation in clapping for front line NHS workers.

In the daily coronavirus press briefing on Sunday, Ms Sturgeon 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 was visited by local police in Earlsferry and issued a warning “about her future conduct”, said Police Scotland.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said in a statement: “The legal instructions on not leaving your home without a reasonable excuse apply to everyone… Individuals must not make personal exemptions bespoke to their own circumstances. It is vital that everyone adhere to these requirements.

“Police officers and staff are putting themselves in harm’s way day and night to explain these instructions to our communities, encourage co-operation and, where necessary, enforce them.”

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: “It is difficult to see how the chief medical officer will be able to carry the important messages about the virus and the lockdown if she has not even followed it herself.”

They added: “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.”

Scotland’s constitution secretary Mike Russell said there was no doubt Dr Calderwood’s visit was “ill-advised”. The Scottish Government confirmed it was an overnight stay to “check on a family home”.

Mr Russell said she would be “answerable” for her decision when she appears at the daily coronavirus briefing with Nicola Sturgeon later today.

He 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.”

Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele said policing the pandemic had been made more difficult and stressed checking on a second home is not one of the “reasonable excuses” providing an exception to emergency coronavirus legislation.

He tweeted: “In defending the indefensible has the Scottish Government not just thrown the CMO under the bus? Checking on a 2nd home is not one of the prescribed reasonable excuses.”

Monica Lennon, MSP for central Scotland, said in a statement on Facebook: “As the chief medical officer for Scotland, Catherine Calderwood beams that message into our homes on behalf of the government every single day, however, she has failed to practice what she preaches. Not only is this hypocritical, it is irresponsible and the first minister cannot accept this conduct.

“Hundreds of Scots have died and there is no sign of the spread of the virus slowing. The CMO has undermined Scotland’s pandemic response and if she doesn’t offer her resignation the first minister should sack her.”

Reporting by PA

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