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Scotland’s chief medical officer “truly sorry” for Fife visit amid calls for her to resign

Former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland Dr Catherine Calderwood.
Former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland Dr Catherine Calderwood.

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer has said she is “truly sorry” for flouting her own guidance on coronavirus after being pictured visiting her holiday home in Fife.

Amid growing calls for her to step down, Dr Catherine Calderwood released a statement saying she wished to “apologise unreservedly” for what happened on Saturday, but said she wanted now to focus on the job.

“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,” she said.

“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 MP and MSP for the second home of the Chief Medical Officer said that it is impossible for her to do her job advising the nation on COVID-19 after she flouted her own advice on non-essential travel.

Willie Rennie and Wendy Chamberlain said that tension in the East Neuk was already high with holidaymakers and second home owners flocking to the area over the weekend, but said the fact Dr Catherine Calderwood was one of them added “insult to injury”.

Speaking after it was discovered that Dr Calderwood had visited her second home in Earlsferry in North East Fife, the parliamentarians said: “It is difficult to see how the Chief Medical Officer will be able to carry the important messages about the virus and the lock down if she has not even followed it herself.

“There is no doubt she has worked incredibly hard and led the country well through the early stages of this crisis.

“Yet it it is difficult to see how she can continue to do that when she has made this massive error of judgement.

“Local people are irate that holiday makers and second home owners have ignored the warnings from the Chief Medical Officer to stay at home.

“The main street was described as being like a motorway and many second homes are full up.

“There is real concern that with a swollen population and a virus sweeping through the local health services will just not cope.

“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.”

Shadow cabinet secretary for health and sport Monica Lennon said: “The Scottish public must have complete confidence in the measures the Scottish Government is asking us to follow during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are relying on the judgement of the First Minster and her top team to lead by example.

“The lockdown is necessary and that’s why the stay home to save lives message is so important.

“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.”

Scottish Greens health spokesperson Alison Johnstone said the Scottish Government had lost credibility.

“This is irresponsible from the Chief Medical Officer and undermines the hard work she and her team have undoubtedly been doing during this crisis,” she said.

“She has admitted the reasons for her travelling to her second home were ‘not legitimate’.

“While the majority of people have adhered to the strict guidelines to stay at home, put in place to keep us safe, there are still sadly too many people getting out and about. If that is to improve we need clear leadership from those at the top, and that includes setting an example.

“Unfortunately, Ms Calderwood can no longer credibly front the public campaign”

Scottish Greens MSP for mid Scotland and Fife, Mark Ruskell, said: “Travel restrictions will help protect rural places with stretched health services and elderly populations such as the East Neuk, but only if they are stuck to.

“It’s vital people from Edinburgh and elsewhere do not use this incident as an excuse to place others in danger.

“The advice is to stay at home. That means stay at home, not switch between holiday homes or campervans as the mood suits. The Scottish Government must underline this advice and move on, not make excuses for the CMO who has now rightly apologised.”

Fife Council co-leader David Ross tweeted: “We’re asking people not to visit the Fife coastal path.

“We have many 2nd homes in Fife and the message has to be please don’t come here.

“Not only for health protection but as council co-leader I know the huge pressure on our services and staff. Don’t make it worse. Stay at home.”

Independent councillor Linda Holt, who represents the East Neuk and Landward ward, criticised Dr Calderwood for defying her own government’s advice.

“Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer knows better than anyone the importance of sticking to the social distancing rules,” she said.

“Her hypocrisy in flouting these rules damages the credibility of the government’s all-important message as do the Scottish Government’s lame excuses for her behaviour. Nicola Sturgeon should sack her immediately.

“The East Neuk has a very high proportion of older, vulnerable residents, so the continued occupation of holiday homes against official advice is a real problem here.

“The Scottish Government needs to make it 100% clear that no one has an excuse for visiting their holiday home.”

Conservative Lothian MSP Miles Briggs said: “Lockdown is incredibly difficult for everyone but the rules apply to us all.

“I really don’t know what Dr Calderwood can have been thinking to go against the official coronavirus Government advice she has been advocating and act in this irresponsible way.”

Calum Steele, head of the Scottish Police Federation, also suggested her position was untenable.

“The job of policing during this #COVID19 epidemic just got that little bit harder this morning,” he tweeted.

“And having crawled over the legislation when it was first published I can tell you categorically that checking on a second home is not one of the listed “reasonable excuses” for being out of your own.

“There are literally thousands of families climbing the walls of their own homes desperate for respite and would love to amble by the sea but don’t.

“We also have thousands of police making sure they don’t.

“You try being a police officer explaining that to someone today!”

Local residents have also voiced their concern as the media focus shifted to East Neuk.

Mark Dickson, chairman of the Elie and The Royal Burgh of Earlsferry Community Council, admitted: “We are very disappointed to hear this news.

“A lot of residents are upset as we have made efforts to advise people to follow government guidelines on travelling and have a very high proportion of elderly and vulnerable people in our community.

“We also have a high proportion of second home owners in our village.

“We welcome the contribution they make to our community and some people chose to stay here through this difficult time.

“Since the travel restrictions came into effect we have been clear, as have our MP and MSP, that people should avoid non essential travel and this includes visits to the East Neuk of Fife.

“We are grateful to the majority who have helped us protect our community by following the guidelines.

“We have limited resources and facilities to cope and like every community across the country are doing our best to look after the vulnerable in these challenging times.

“We look forward to welcoming people back once it is safe to do so but in the meantime please follow guidelines and stay at home.”