Scotland’s chief medical officer has kept her job after apologising for breaking strict government lockdown rules to travel with her family to a second home.
Catherine Calderwood, who has led medical efforts to persuade people to remain at home, twice travelled to her coastal weekend getaway more than an hour from the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photographs of her with her family were published in a Scottish newspaper on Sunday.
Police officers visited the senior official and reprimanded her in an embarrassing blow for government efforts to persuade people to stay at home to limit the spread of the disease.
The UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, raised the prospect on Sunday that outdoor exercise could be banned if people failed to stick to the rules after groups of people defied the lockdown to gather at the coast or at parks. It came as the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK rose by 621 in one day to 4,934.
Dr Calderwood has been the face of public health campaigns in Scotland encouraging people to stay at home. She had previously re-tweeted advice from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to stay at home because “Lives really do depend on it”.
“I wish to apologise unreservedly for the issue reported in the media today,” Dr Calderwood said in a statement. “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.”
Ms Sturgeon said she did not know about the visits until this weekend and Dr Calderwood would no longer appear at media conferences on the issue.
But the first minister said it would be “damaging” not to have her ongoing advice and she would keep her job.
"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," said Ms Sturgeon.
Mr Hancock said later on Sunday that Dr Calderwood’s continued role was a matter for the devolved Scottish government.
But he urged people not to “bend or break” the rules on taking exercise. “These rules are there for everyone,” he said. “We couldn’t be clearer.”
The Scottish government last month criticised the “irresponsible behaviour” of people travelling to second homes in the Highlands region of the country.