Boris Johnson rejects Nicola Sturgeon's Cummings comparison with Catherine Calderwood quitting

Simon Johnson
Nicola Sturgeon with Dr Catherine Calderwood, Scotland's former chief medical officer - Reuters

Nicola Sturgeon yesterday urged Boris Johnson to put public health above loyalty to his "trusted adviser" by ensuring Dominic Cummings stands down.

The First Minister said she and Dr Catherine Calderwood faced the same choice after Scotland's former chief medical officer twice travelled to her family's second home during lockdown.

She said it was "tough" to lose a close adviser during the pandemic but the alternative was undermining the "integrity of public health advice" being issued by the government during the crisis.

In a message on social media posted shortly before the Prime Minister presided over the daily Downing Street briefing, she said that Mr Johnson "and Cummings should do likewise."

But Mr Johnson denied that Mr Cummings' continued presence in 10 Downing Street risked the public ignoring official advice and claimed there was a "sharp distinction" with Dr Calderwood's case.

He said that "unlike the lady you mention" Mr Cummings went into self-isolation for at least 14 days and this was "determined by the childcare needs of the family."

However, Jeane Freeman, the SNP's Health Minister, expressed concern that Mr Cummings' actions had "confused" Scots over the actions they should take if they get the virus.

She reiterated that "the guidance is really clear about isolating in your own home" and advice was available online for those with children.

Dr Calderwood resigned last month after being warned by police for twice travelling with her family to her holiday home in Earlsferry, Fife, more than an hour's drive from her main Edinburgh residence.

Ms Sturgeon initially tried to stand by her and they conducted a painful joint press conference in which the First Minister refused to let her answer questions.

However, a few hours later, the First Minister performed an about-turn and announced her resignation. She said the furore risked "distracting from and undermining confidence in the Government's public health message at this crucial time."

Boris Johnson rejected a comparison between Dominic Cummings and Dr Catherine Calderwood - Shutterstock

Ms Sturgeon tweeted: "I know it is tough to lose a trusted adviser at the height of crisis, but when it’s a choice of that or integrity of vital public health advice, the latter must come first.

"That’s the judgment I and, to her credit, Catherine Calderwood reached."

Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader said: "I've heard what the Prime Minister has said and it is a situation for him to judge. He has reached a conclusion and we must all now focus on continuing to beat this dreadful pandemic."

Responding to Mr Carlaw's defence on Twitter, Ms Sturgeon said: "Strangely different to his view on Cath Calderwood. Leadership is saying/doing the right thing even when it’s tough for you - not just calling for it when it’s tough for your opponent."

Ms Freeman faced more questions over 921 hospital patients who were discharged to care homes in March, most of whom were not tested for the virus beforehand.

The Health Minister admitted she and Ms Sturgeon may have taken different actions if they had the evidence available "now". More than 1,600 care home residents have now died.

There was no policy to test patients who leave wards until April 21, as Ms Freeman initially refused to bring in mandatory checks despite pressure from opposition.

Speaking at the Scottish Government's daily press briefing yesterday, she said there should be a review of social care and the "mixed economy" of care home provision should be expanded.

It also emerged that Police Scotland are investigating the deaths of three women at the Home Farm care home on Skye, where 10 people have so far died.

Meanwhile, STV removed an online video it produced with footage of children thanking Ms Sturgeon for "keeping us safe."

The short film provoked a fierce backlash after it was posted online yesterday, with former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron calling it "Pravda TV" and "embarrassingly awful." Another critic said: "Someone from STV has clearly been on a work placement in North Korea."