John Swinney apologises for sharing COVID face mask graphic
John Swinney, the Scottish Government's minister for COVID recovery, has apologised after sharing disputed statistics about face masks.
Swinney tweeted a graphic which claimed there is zero risk of catching COVID if two people are both wearing masks and stood 6ft apart.
Amid mounting pressure and after being reported to the UK Statistics Authority by the Scottish Conservatives, Swinney deleted the original tweet.
In a new post, he said: "I shared an image on Monday to illustrate that masks and distancing can help stop Covid transmission. I have now deleted the image as the figures in it were not verified. Sorry for that. But the message is unchanged: masks and distancing remain critical to beating this virus."
According to the graphic shared by Swinney, the risk of getting COVID from an infected person falls by 98.5 per cent if both parties are wearing a mask.
The risk disappears completely if both parties are stood more than 6ft apart, according to the image.
Such claims have been widely shared on social media, but while there is good evidence that face coverings can slow the spread of the virus, claims about their percentage effectiveness are not substantiated.
Asked about Sweeney's tweet earlier this week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended her colleague, who is also the deputy first minister, and said he was illustrating a point that face masks protect people from transmission of coronavirus.
However, she added that ministers recognise that in trying to do that, they should use properly verified graphics.
Yesterday, Annie Wells, the Tory health spokeswoman, said she had written to Sir Iain Diamond, the national statistician, asking for his input on an infographic.
She said: "A message from the deputy first minister that is essentially fake news has been retweeted nearly 1,000 times and has likely reached an audience in the tens or possibly even hundreds of thousands.
"The continued use of an unverified graphic like this is potentially dangerous. It undermines the serious public health message that masks can limit the spread of the virus. It may even convince some people that there is zero risk from COVID in certain situations, which is not supported by science."