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by Jack Thomson
20 July 2021
Nicola Sturgeon: Ministers should 'take care to use properly verified graphics'

Image credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images

Nicola Sturgeon: Ministers should 'take care to use properly verified graphics'

Nicola Sturgeon has said ministers should "take care to use properly verified graphics" after John Swinney was criticised for sharing disputed statistics in relation to face masks.

Swinney, the Scottish Government's COVID recovery secretary, came under pressure from opposition parties after he tweeted an image on Monday, claiming there was zero risk of catching the virus if two people are both wearing masks and standing 6ft apart.

While there is evidence that face coverings can slow the spread of the virus, claims about their percentage effectiveness are not substantiated. The original source of the infographic in question is not clear.

The Scottish Conservatives' health spokeswoman Annie Wells said the graphic was "misleading" and "wrongly sends a message that there is no risk from COVID in certain circumstances."

She said Swinney should delete the tweet but it remains posted on the deputy first minister's account.

The First Minister said her colleague 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.

Sturgeon said at the lunchtime briefing: "The deputy first minister tweeted an image yesterday that was intended to illustrate, what is absolutely the case, that wearing face masks protects people from transmission of the virus. So, if I wear a face mask it gives you some protection, if you wear a face mask it gives me some protection.

"He was illustrating that point and I think the more we can illustrate that point, the better.

"What I will say in addition to that is we recognise that in seeking to illustrate that, we should take care to use properly verified graphics, and we'll certainly take that on board in terms of how we tweet that information in future.

"But getting the general point across, he is absolutely right to seek to do as I seek to do that on a general ongoing basis as well."

Dr Nicola Steedman, Scotland's deputy chief medical officer, said the data behind face coverings was "incredibly complex" and depends on the type of mask - adding that face coverings are different from surgical face masks.

She said: "I think that figure was an effort to simplistically represent the fact that masks and face coverings do provide some protection - the degree of protection is variable depending on the mask and on the distance from the person."

Responding to Sturgeon's comments this afternoon, Wells said Swinney "barely got a slap on the wrist" over the graphic, which she said "risks undermining public health messages". 

The Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman added: "Nicola Sturgeon’s evasive defence was laughable. It seems promoting unverified information is tolerated if you’re a senior SNP politician... This is simple – delete it, distance the government from this kind of reckless behaviour, and unequivocally condemn the use of misleading information."


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