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by Jack Thomson
21 July 2021
Scottish Conservatives contact statistics watchdog over John Swinney face mask graphic row

John Swinney, the Scottish Government's COVID recovery secretary (Picture: PA Images/Alamy)

Scottish Conservatives contact statistics watchdog over John Swinney face mask graphic row

The Scottish Conservatives have reported John Swinney's use of disputed data about face masks to the UK Statistics Authority.

Annie Wells, the party's health spokeswoman, has written to Sir Iain Diamond, the national statistician, asking for his input on an infographic, which was tweeted by Swinney on Monday.

The Scottish Government's COVID recovery secretary came under pressure after he posted the image, which claimed 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.

Yesterday, 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.

The Scottish Conservatives have decided to contact the statistics watchdog over the matter.

Wells said earlier today: "More than 48 hours after journalists and the Scottish Conservatives raised concerns about this misleading graphic, no action has been taken.

"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.

"We have given the SNP every opportunity to admit their mistake and fix this. It has also been raised directly with the First Minister and Scottish Government officials by the media.

"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."

The graphic in question has since been deleted by Swinney, who apologised but said masks and distancing remain "critical" in beating coronavirus.

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."

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