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Calderwood resigns over lockdown visits to Fife home

As seen on TV: Catherine Calderwood fronting health campaign

Scotland’s chief medical officer has resigned over the controversy surrounding visits to her second home in Fife during the coronavirus lockdown.

Dr Catherine Calderwood, who received a police caution for her actions, said her decision was taken “with a heavy heart” but had agreed with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that the “justifiable focus” on her behaviour risked distracting from the pandemic response.

Dr Calderwood, whose main home is in Edinburgh, accepted that she had acted against her own advice to the Scottish people not to travel.

“The most important thing to me now and over the next few very difficult months is that people across Scotland know what they need to do to reduce the spread of this virus, and that means they must have complete trust in those who give them advice,” she said in a statement.

She will now work over the next few days “to ensure a smooth transition” to her successor.

She had earlier agreed to withdraw from public information campaigns and media briefings on the coronavirus after Police Scotland issued a warning to her for visiting her second home in Earlsferry.

Accepting Dr Calderwood’s resignation, Ms Sturgeon said: “Dr Calderwood’s advice to me, to the government and to people across Scotland over the past few weeks has been the right advice.

“It is however clear that the mistake she made – even though she has apologised sincerely and honourably for it – risks distracting from and undermining confidence in the government’s public health message at this crucial time.

“That is not a risk either of us is willing to take.”

Amid calls earlier in the day for Dr Calderwood to resign, Chief Constable lain Livingstone issued a statement which said: “Earlier today, local officers visited Dr Catherine Calderwood and spoke to her about her actions, reiterated crucial advice and issued a warning about her future conduct, all of which she accepted.

“Social distancing is the key intervention to curtail the spread of coronavirus and it is essential the instructions are followed to protect each other, support key workers, take strain from the NHS, and save lives.

“Individuals must not make personal exemptions bespoke to their own circumstances.”

The First Minister, speaking at her daily conference, said: “I understand the anger of people. She is not escaping the consequences of this. The fact that the chief medical officer is standing here now facing justified criticism… should send a clear message that this guidance is for everyone.”

Justifying why the CMO would not be fired, Ms Sturgeon said: “It would be damaging to my work and the work of the government not to have the advice and expertise of the chief medical officer.

Nicola Sturgeon at today’s conference: ‘we all make mistakes’

“We will all things wrong and we will all make mistakes.”

Ms Sturgeon dodged the question when she was asked if double standards were being applied and why the CMO was being warned but not fined.

Dr Calderwood apologised after she was photographed on Saturday crossing a golf course with her family in Earlsferry, more than an hour’s drive from the capital. It emerged today that it was her second visit to her Fife home having visited last weekend.

She has fronted a television campaign urging the public to stay at home to defeat the coronavirus.

Last month the First Minister ordered a clampdown on people taking ferries to tourist hotspots after Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing expressed anger at what he called “reckless and irresponsible behaviour of some people travelling to the Highland and Islands.”

There has been widespread outrage at Dr Calderwood’s behaviour, first reported by the Scottish Sun, and calls from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties for her to resign.

Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell said there is “absolutely no doubt” that Dr Calderwood’s visit to her second home was ill-advised.

Scottish National Clinical Director Jason Leitch, a regular pundit on television and radio, also came in for criticism after defending her actions, even though she issued a statement accepting her “mistake”. While saying she was “truly sorry”, she said she would not step down.

In her statement on Sunday morning, Dr Calderwood said: “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.

“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.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said “with great regret” that Dr Calderwood should lose her job over the issue.

“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,” he said.

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

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

Her actions were criticised on social media, with MSP Monica Lennon, Labour’s health spokeswoman, describing it as “extremely disappointing and hypocritical”.

She said: “If the chief medical officer can’t lead by example what chance do we have of convincing people to stay at home?”

“The First Minister and her top team must lead by example during this crisis which continues to take lives on a daily basis.

“The message that people should stay at home to save lives and protect the NHS is the right one.

She cannot and should not continue in her role. Her position as CMO has become untenable

– Monica Lennon, Labour

“The Chief Medical Officer delivers that instruction on behalf of the government but has failed to follow her own advice.

“Her actions have undermined Scotland’s pandemic response and her own credibility.

“Unfortunately, it means she cannot and should not continue in her role. Her position as CMO has become untenable.”

Comment: First Minister left scarred by Calderwood’s ill-judged trips



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