'Blurring the lines' Sturgeon row erupts as Scottish health chief DEFENDS her Covid breach

Nicola Sturgeon visits Iconic Gents Hair in East Kilbride

Ms Sturgeon was reported to police after footage showed her appearing to break Scottish Covid laws on face masks in a video posted on social media during a local election campaign visit to a barber in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, on Saturday. On Monday, Prof Leitch said her failure to abide by the rules lasted only “a matter of seconds”, which according to one Tory MSP is an “inappropriate” justification of the events as well as not a matter the professor should comment on as it is “blurring the lines between ministers and government officials”.

Prof Leitch, who is a member of the Health and Social Care Management Board and provided key leadership throughout the response to the coronavirus pandemic, argued Ms Sturgeon did “actually what we’re asking people to do”.

Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, he said: “My understanding of that incident — I haven’t spoken to the First Minister today, I imagine I’ll speak to her later — my understanding is it was a matter of seconds, she realises the place is crowded, puts her face covering on.

“The guidance says if you are in a crowded area, inadvertently or deliberately, then put a face covering on and that will protect you and others.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Craig Hoy criticised him for making remarks that were “confusing” for the Scottish public.

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Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon breached Covid rules ‘for a matter of seconds’, Scotland’s health chief says (Image: Getty)

He said: “It is inappropriate for a civil servant to defend Nicola Sturgeon in this way. These kinds of questions should be left to politicians to answer.

“Instead, SNP ministers are in hiding and Jason Leith is blurring the lines between ministers and government officials.”

He added: “Mr Leitch is also misrepresenting the Covid laws as they stood when Nicola Sturgeon clearly broke them at the weekend.

“Face mask use was still in law until today but Mr Leitch backed up Nicola Sturgeon’s excuse that she only had to put the mask on when in a crowded space.

“If the SNP had listened to us weeks ago and changed face mask rules from law to guidance, he and Nicola Sturgeon would have been correct.

“But they failed to do this and Mr Leitch should not be confusing the public, or doing the SNP’s job for them, by trying to defend Nicola Sturgeon in this manner.”

Prof Jason Leitch

Prof Leitch is ‘blurring the lines’ with his defence of the First Minister, an angry Tory MSP argues (Image: Handout)

In the mobile phone footage, the First Minister is seen without a face covering as she speaks to customers and pats the head of a man in a barber’s chair while imitating the sound of electric clippers.

In a video from the same event posted on Ms Sturgeon’s official Twitter account, she can be seen wearing a tartan face mask as she shaves a man’s beard.

Restrictions in Scotland until Sunday meant it was a legal requirement to wear a face covering in most indoor public places – including hairdressers.

The rules became guidance on Monday — just two days after Ms Sturgeon’s visit to the barber’s shop —, meaning it is recommended people continue to wear masks when appropriate but it is not mandatory they do so.

An SNP spokesperson said of the incident: “The first minister was invited into the barbers during an outdoor visit on the street. Within a few seconds, she realised she hadn’t put her mask back on and immediately put it on.”

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But those few seconds were enough to call for the involvement of the police, with a Police Scotland spokesperson saying: “We can confirm that we have received a complaint, which is currently being assessed.”

Should it be confirmed Ms Sturgeon breached the rules, it would be the second instance in which an apology from the First Minister, who took office in 2014, is needed.

In December 2020, she took off her face mask at a funeral wake, which she later described as a “stupid mistake”.

This second incident has led the Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesperson, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, to brand Ms Sturgeon as a hypocrite.

She said: “The video clearly shows Nicola Sturgeon isn’t practising what she preaches on face masks.

“She’s happy virtue signalling for official photos but behind closed doors, it’s clear she doesn’t believe in her own rules, so why should anyone else?”

Monday’s long-planned easing of rules also includes a change in Scotland’s test and protect system.

People without symptoms are no longer being asked to take regular lateral flow tests and free kits for twice-weekly routine testing are not available for the general public anymore.

And while Scots with Covid symptoms are still required to isolate and get a PCR test until the end of the month, test sites will close and those with symptoms will no longer be urged to get tested from April 30.

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