HEALTH Secretary Humza Yousaf has been forced to apologise for scaring families after wrongly claiming 10 young children had been hospitalised “because of Covid” and was accused of “stoking fear”.

Mr Yousaf said he never meant “to cause undue alarm amongst parents” when he used the figure on Wednesday to warn against travelling to councils where soft play areas are open.

As well as stating incorrectly that there were 10 young children children admitted to hospital last week “because of Covid”, he warned that travelling from a level 2 area to a soft play facility in a level 1 area “could lead to hospitalisation of children”.

It later emerged the number included children aged 0 to 9 in hospital who had Covid last week, but may have been hospitalised for unrelated reasons.

Covid admissions can include testing positive up to 14 days prior to admission or during their stay in hospital.

Mr Yousaf said: "My main message was to urge caution, not to cause any undue alarm, I regret if that was the case."

After Mr Yousaf’s comments sparked fears of a surge in child victims of Covid, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health intervened to kill off the idea.

Dr Steve Turner, registrar for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “As it stands there are very few children in hospital in Scotland and across the whole of the UK due to Covid.

“We are not seeing any evidence of an increase in paediatric admissions with Covid. A very small number of admissions who test positive for Covid is what we’d expect.”

He added: “Our experience over the last 15 months is that many children who test positive have come into hospital for something else, like broken bones. At the moment the situation in the UK is table.

“The number of children in hospital with Covid remains very low. Children’s wards are not seeing a rise in cases with Covid. Parents shouldn’t worry.”

READ MORE: Covid Scotland: ten children admitted to hospital

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Annie Wells, said: “This language from Humza Yousaf has now been proven to be completely misleading by his own Government’s data. His comments were alarming and a terrible example of scaremongering during a health crisis.

“He ended his stint as Justice Secretary in a shroud of controversy and now he’s started his new role with an appalling misleading statement. He should apologise immediately to parents who were understandably worried.

“By making these claims without any evidence to back them up, he has shamefully stoked fear among the public.

“Health experts have made it clear parents have nothing to worry about in terms of their child potentially ending up in hospital. The SNP’s Health Secretary should have sought their advice first before making wildly inaccurate comments on national radio.”

Data published by the Scottish Government shows 10 admissions to hospital for those aged 0-9 for the period May 24 to May 30 and six from May 17 to May 23. No Covid hospital admissions were recorded for those aged 10 to 19 during May.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Children may protect parents from risk of Covid

Lib Dems MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "It’s really important that we treat this virus and it’s variants seriously, but parents and children have enough to worry about right now, over lost school days, SQA assessments and economic uncertainty without causing undue alarm.

“That said a swift way of resolving concerns about the impact of new variants on young people is to vaccinate them. It’s why I’ve called on the JCVI to fast track it’s decision on extending the vaccination program to the over 12s. Something that is already happening to great effect in North America.”

Government health officials do not believe any of the variants of concern circulating in Scotland disproportionately impact children.

The figures quoted by Mr Yousaf came from data classed as "management information", which was made public by the Scottish Government on Thursday.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “For the children who have been hospitalised, and their families, this will clearly be a worrying time but our NHS will deliver them the best care possible.

“With Public Health Scotland (PHS) we continue to monitor the numbers of patients hospitalised and who have tested positive for Covid-19.

“PHS are now working to publish data on the age ranges of those hospitalised on either a weekly or daily basis, in addition to the data they already publish on this issue.

“As the effect of the vaccine is felt there has been an expected increase in the proportion of hospitalisations that are from younger age groups – as older age groups who are most at risk from serious consequences from the virus have increased protection as a result of vaccination.

“Levels of Covid-19 in the community are markedly lower than at the turn of the year which has the welcome result that overall hospitalisation has reduced since that point.“