According to a public inquiry, it has been reported that Humza Yousaf received guidance on how to not wear a face mask in public during the peak of the Covid pandemic from one of Scotland’s top health officials.
Private text messages show Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, told Yousaf he had only to hold a glass in his hand to avoid having to use a mask while he was standing and talking to people at a dinner.
Leitch informed Yousaf, who was Scotland’s health secretary at the time, that it was mandatory for everyone to wear a mask while standing and talking. However, Leitch also noted that in reality, nobody actually follows this rule.
“Always keep a beverage in your hand to avoid being approached. If someone approaches you while you are standing, simply raise your drink.”
Jamie Dawson, the lawyer representing the UK Covid inquiry, questioned Leitch about their conversation and inquired if he was suggesting a way for Yousaf to avoid wearing a mask.
Dawson stated that Yousaf’s goal was to attend the function without wearing a mask and bypassing the rules. He described it as a workaround.
Leitch refuted the accusation and minimized its importance. “If this were a more significant and crucial piece of advice, I would not feel comfortable with it at all. This was simply a small detail within broader guidance on dining and alcohol,” he stated to Dawson.
According to Leitch, there was a particular issue that he personally struggled to comprehend. The regulations stated that individuals were not obligated to wear a mask while consuming food and beverages, but did not clarify what actions should be taken if they got up to speak with someone at a different table.
“I advised him to hold a beverage. Although he may not be constantly drinking, having a drink in hand would exempt him from wearing a mask,” he explained.
Leitch admitted that he was also caught off guard at a separate dinner when a photo was taken of him without a mask.
“Technically, that action violated the rules, but it occurred during a dinner and social event. As such, I believed it was acceptable. [Yousaf] is inquiring about that specific situation,” Leitch explained.
According to Dawson, these communications took place as the number of Covid cases started to rise in November 2021 because of the Delta variant. This was shortly before the Omicron variant led to a significant increase in infection rates, reaching nearly eight times higher than during the initial outbreak of the pandemic.
Dawson questioned, “If the health and social care cabinet secretary didn’t comprehend the regulations, what hope did anyone else have?”
Leitch was also questioned by Dawson and Heather Hallett, the leader of the investigation, regarding his potential involvement in following recommendations from another high-ranking government employee to delete WhatsApp messages as a means of circumventing freedom of information laws.
Revised: The individual was presented with conversations he had with Ken Thomson, the Scottish government’s director general for strategy and external affairs. In these exchanges, Thomson cautioned him that the messages were subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. He also reminded him to be aware of the “clear chat” feature. Leitch acknowledged this advice, stating that it was at the director general level, and then confirmed that he had completed the conversation.
Hallett stated that the messages indicate a strong embrace of the practice of deleting messages.
Leitch stated that his answer was dismissive, but clarified that it did not reflect his actual stance. He claimed that he was simply adhering to guidance and did not have strong feelings about the deletion.
The investigation also discovered that Nicola Sturgeon, who was Scotland’s first minister at the time, utilized her personal SNP email account to conduct government affairs “confidentially” during the emergency.
Professor Devi Sridhar, a renowned health specialist from Edinburgh University who provided guidance to Sturgeon during the pandemic, publicly shared their private messages on Twitter. These messages, dated June 2020, included Sturgeon’s SNP email and government email addresses.
Sturgeon stated: “Do not be concerned about protocol – addressing the virus is more crucial than that.”
The leaders of the opposition party stated that this confirmed their ongoing worries that Sturgeon utilized SNP emails to avoid being examined and to circumvent freedom of information regulations. This allegation has been refuted by the former first minister in the past.
The chair of the Scottish Conservatives, Craig Hoy, stated that it has been verified that Sturgeon deleted all her WhatsApp messages during the pandemic. He condemned this act as calculated, secretive, and unacceptable, stating that it allowed her to evade scrutiny.