Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon accused of messaging failure as 2000 cases linked to Euros

Nearly 2,000 newly identified Covid cases in Scotland are in people who attended at least one event during Scotland’s Euros campaign, it has been revealed, as the country recorded the highest number of cases since the start of the pandemic for the second time in a matter of days.

A new report from Public Health Scotland (PHS) stated 1,991 people, who were confirmed as positive, had attended an event related to the Euros during their infectious period, with two-thirds of those cases linked with travel to London.

The figures also showed three quarters of those cases were aged between 20 and 39 years of age, and nine in ten cases are men.

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The report, published on Wednesday, said: “Nearly two thirds of cases, or 1,294 people, reported travelling to London for a Euro 2020 related event, including 397 people who attended the June 18 Scotland versus England match at Wembley Stadium.”

Scotland fans congregated at the Glasgow Green fanzone during the Euros.
Scotland fans congregated at the Glasgow Green fanzone during the Euros.

Despite warnings by London mayor Sadiq Khan not to travel to the city without a ticket for the game, large crowds of Scottish fans headed south, congregating in Leicester Square, Hyde Park and in and around Wembley for the country’s match against England on June 18.

Similarly, large groups gathered near Hampden in Glasgow for the home fixtures against the Czech Republic and Croatia on June 14 and 22 respectively, while up to 3,000 people were able to watch matches at the fanzone in Glasgow Green.

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People have a two-to-three day window where they can spread the disease before they feel any symptoms, and as a result, health chiefs say they may have “unknowingly” transmitted the coronavirus to others in the process.

The football-related cases are believed to have contributed to Scotland recording its highest number of cases yet, as the latest Scottish Government figures showed 3,887 positive test results registered in the previous 24 hours – an increase of 769 on the previous day.

Three further coronavirus deaths were also included in Wednesday’s statistics.

The revelation of the link to the Euros was blamed on messaging failure by the First Minister and the Scottish Government, as well as a delay in asking fans booked to watch matches at the specified outdoor zone in Glasgow to take a lateral flow test before attending.

However, Nicola Sturgeon denied there had been a “softly, softly” approach to dissuading people from travelling to the football and said there had been “explicit" advice not to go without a ticket to Wembley.

According to the PHS report, between June 11 and 28, contact tracers in the Test and Protect system had a total of 32,539 positive Covid cases reported to them and, of these, 1,294 had travelled to London for a Euro 2020-related event.

Of all the “tags” added to each case, visits to hospitality – including pubs – accounted for 34 per cent of infections. A “relatively small” number of cases were linked to other events, with 55 at the Glasgow fanzone, 38 at the Croatia match and 37 at the Czech Republic fixture.

However, the sharp increase in Covid cases linked to Euro 2020 can be seen in the days after the June 18 clash in London, with almost 250 cases logged on June 20 and 563 the following day. Hundreds more cases were logged in the three days following.

The report added: “PHS is working with Test and Protect and NHS boards to ensure that all public health actions are taken in the close contacts of these Euro 2020 cases as part of the 32,539 cases that were reported to the Test and Protect Case Management System during this period.”

Professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews Stephen Reicher, a member of the government’s Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science, described the Euros as “last year’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ on steroids”.

The Chancellor’s scheme to boost the hospitality trade was later blamed for a spike in cases.

Tweeting a graph from the PHS report, Prof Reicher said: “These are the data for cases in Scotland, by gender (men in blue). What happened just before 18th June to explain the spike in cases overall and particularly in men (where no such gender divide had existed before)? Note: Scotland played their first game in the Euros on 14th June.”

Scottish fans were allocated 2,600 tickets for the match at Wembley, out of a 25,000 capacity crowd, but many more headed south for the game.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We were very explicit in saying to fans who didn’t have tickets for Wembley not to travel. We can’t physically stop every person travelling, and significant numbers of people did travel.

“I think there is an association between that and some of the cases we’ve seen in recent days.”

She added: “Almost literally every day for 16 months I’ve asked people to do difficult things and forego things they desperately want to do.

“Unfortunately, we’re still doing that. People have, by and large, responded magnificently and we need to ask people to continue to do that for a little while longer.”

However, Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “While it was understandable fans were keen to enjoy the first appearance of a Scotland men’s team at a major tournament in over two decades, it is clear that greater precautions could have been taken.

“The wider public will be angry that those who ultimately broke many restrictions by travelling down south could mean our progress in fighting the virus is hampered.

“However, there was a failure from the First Minister and other SNP ministers to deliver clear and consistent messaging over the public health risks associated with travelling to watch football.

“They are now trying to spin a positive picture that they were on top of this situation, which simply wasn’t the case.

“It is critical that SNP ministers ensure that every resource is given to Test and Protect to stop any further spread of the virus and give us the best chance of easing restrictions in the coming weeks.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamerlain said her party had called for fans at Hampden and the fanzone to be mailed lateral flow tests, “but the government batted back our suggestion until it was too late”.

She added: “Combined with a lack of clarity from the government over travel to London, it's no surprise that case loads have spiked.

"There are also clear indications that the Test and Protect system is buckling under pressure. It's taking far too long to gather critical information.

"People have made huge sacrifices to save lives and buy time. We warned last summer that gaps in Test and Protect would contribute to a second wave. We warned in December that the system needed ramping up to meet the challenge of new strains.

"The Scottish Government has had months to plan for this increase in cases and the management of fans around the Euros, but spent that all time insisting everything was working well. That complacency is now really costing us.”

An SFA spokesperson said: "The Scottish FA – and indeed the Scotland head coach and national team players – co-operated throughout with the Scottish Government to re-emphasise the message that fans who did not have tickets for the England match should not travel and that those who did have tickets travelled safely and followed the relevant public health advice."

According to the latest statistics, Scotland’s Covid death toll under the daily measure now stands at 7,716.

Responding to the statistics, Ms Sturgeon said: “Today’s reported Covid figures show a further increase – however, the vaccination impact is still clear.

“Vaccines are now doing much of the work we needed heavy restrictions to do in the last wave. And thankfully, we continue to see a much lower burden of serious illness. We must take care at this stage though, as we still have a significant percent of the population not yet fully vaccinated.”

On Tuesday, 3,118 cases and one death of a patient with the virus were recorded, with 235 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid, up 20, and 19 patients in intensive care, down one.

A total of 3,799,467 people have now received the first dose of the Covid vaccination and 2,712,237 have received their second dose.

The First Minister said: “We are vaccinating just as quickly as supplies, and the clinical advice on timing of second doses, allow.

“We continue to monitor cases – and, crucially, hospital/ICU numbers – carefully.”

The First Minister also said she remained confident restrictions could be further eased as planned on July 19 and August 9.

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