'I was in the wrong' over Covid rules breach - Sturgeon

Media caption,
"I am kicking myself very hard" - Nicola Sturgeon apologises for mask rule breach

Scotland's first minister has apologised for breaching Covid rules by taking her face mask off at a wake.

The Scottish Sun has published a photograph of Nicola Sturgeon standing talking to three people at a social distance, but with her face uncovered.

She was attending a wake after the funeral of a Scottish government civil servant who died with Covid.

Ms Sturgeon had been wearing a tartan mask and is said to have taken it off briefly as she was leaving the venue.

The Scottish government's Covid regulations say that customers in hospitality venues must wear a face covering except when seated - including when they are entering, exiting and moving around.

Anyone who breaches the face covering rules can be punished by a fixed penalty notice of £60.

However Police Scotland said they would not be taking any action, saying the first minister had apologised and "acknowledged this inadvertent breach" of the regulations.

In a statement, Ms Sturgeon said she had "briefly" removed her face mask while attending a wake, calling it a "stupid mistake".

Addressing MSPs at Holyrood, the first minister said she wanted to express "how sorry I am for my breach of rules that I ask all of us to follow".

Ms Sturgeon said: "I want to be clear that regardless of the circumstances, I was in the wrong. There are no excuses.

"These rules do apply to me, just as they do to everyone else, and the rules really matter.

"I am kicking myself very hard - possibly harder than my worst critic ever could - but more importantly I'll be making sure I don't drop my guard again."

Image source, The Scottish Sun

Ms Sturgeon is understood to have been at the wake in the Stable Bar and Restaurant in Edinburgh after attending a service at nearby Mortonhall Crematorium.

The first minister regularly uses her daily coronavirus briefings to remind people to cover their faces to limit the risk of spreading the virus.

Scotland's national clinical director Jason Leitch told Good Morning Scotland he had spoken to Ms Sturgeon last night and she was "furious with herself".

"She is absolutely mad at this little lapse in concentration - it's so easily done," he said. "We live in a completely different world from a year ago.

"She was leaving a funeral of a colleague of ours - a wonderful, wonderful individual who did a huge amount of work during the pandemic. It was an awfully sad day for many of us in the government who knew him and his family well.

"It just reinforces again to all of us, the nature of these instructions and this virus."

When you make and promote coronavirus rules, it is not a good idea to break them.

No-one understands that better than Nicola Sturgeon, who has already parted company with an MP and a medical adviser for past breaches.

The first minister has not taken a train journey having tested positive for the virus as MP Margaret Ferrier did.

She had not made unnecessary trips to a holiday home during lockdown as her former chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, did.

Nor has she taken a drive to Barnard Castle as the prime minister's former adviser Dominic Cummings did.

Nicola Sturgeon's breach - removing her face mask briefly to talk to people at a funeral wake - is relatively minor. But it is a breach.

That's why the first minister has put her hands up and apologised for what she calls a "stupid mistake".

It is a mistake that anyone could make but when you're fronting the campaign to get the public to obey coronavirus rules, it does not make that job any easier.

A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: "The first minister should know better. By forgetting the rules and failing to set a proper example, she's undermining essential public health messaging.

"It's a blunder that an ordinary member of the public wouldn't get away with. There cannot be one rule for Nicola Sturgeon and another for everyone else."

Scotland's Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said in a tweet that Ms Sturgeon had been "upfront" from the very beginning of the pandemic.

"She has apologised for [the] accidental lapse (which I suspect most of us have had one over last 9 months)," he wrote.

He said the FM was her own harshest critic and that "most people" would accept her apology and move on.

'Honest and trustworthy'

Jillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, said high-profile breaches of Covid rules "matter a lot" to the public.

She told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "There are clear breaches and then there are indiscretions.

"I'm not passing comment on anyone in particular, but some of us are prone to lapses now and again.

"The main thing is how honest and trustworthy our leaders are. I don't doubt anyone in Scotland's dedication to the cause but it really does matter, because everybody must follow the rules at all times as much as they possibly can."

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