Jason Leitch appeared to offer Humza Yousaf advice on how to get around the Scottish Government’s own Covid rules during the pandemic.

In an informal message between the National Clinical Director and the now First Minister, the professor said “literally no-one” wore a mask at social events despite the official guidance.

The exchange from 19 November 2021, was revealed as Prof Leitch gave evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry.

The Herald:

Mr Yousaf, then the health secretary, messaged the clinician for advice on the rules ahead of a speech at a dinner. He said: “I know sitting at the table, I don’t need my mask. If I’m standing talking to folk, need my mask on? [sic]”

Prof Leitch responded: “Officially yes. But literally no-one does. Have a drink in your hands at ALL times. Then you’re exempt. So if someone comes over and you stand, lift your drink.”

Mr Yousaf replied to say that was what he had been doing at other events.

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The exchange happened on the same day as the government weighed up the possibility of introducing new restrictions to limit social contact or extending the Covid passport scheme, which meant Scots has to show proof of vaccination to get into nightclubs and some events.

Case numbers had been slowly rising again, and ministers were worried about the impact on the NHS over winter.

The Herald:

Asked why Mr Yousaf felt the need to clarify the rules about face masks, Prof Leitch said there was "ambiguity" about the guidance. 

He said he caused a social media storm when he was asked for a picture during a dinner event and he stood up without a mask.

"So strictly speaking, that was breaking the rules, but it was during a dinner, and during a social occasion, and therefore, I thought it was legitimate."

Prof Leitch said Mr Yousaf was "asking precisely about that scenario."

Mr Dawson claimed Prof Leitch had given Mr Yousaf a “workaround to enable him to attend the function, not wear a mask and get out of complying with the rules”.

The clinician said: “No, that follows the rules. If he has a drink and it’s a drinks reception-type environment, then that follows the rules. I gave him advice to show him how to comply.”

Mr Dawson asked what chance anybody else had if the then Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care didn't understand the rules.

"As I've said, I think this was a tricky area that I found tricky as well," Prof Leitch said. 

"I understood the rules and I understood what we were trying to do, but the real reality of life and the environment in which we were trying to do these things perhaps suggest this guidance was nuanced rather than entirely right."

READ MORE: When is Humza Yousaf giving evidence at UK Covid Inquiry?During the

During the session, Prof Leitch also defended deleting WhatsApp messages during the Covid pandemic, insisting he was following the Scottish Government guidance as he understood it.

However, the National Clinical Director denied wiping the informal communications was a "pre-bed ritual."

In a statement submitted to the probe ahead of his appearance, Prof Leitch said: “Except for direct messages from my Twitter account, I have not retained any one-to-one informal communications in relation to the management of the pandemic in Scotland, this is because I followed the policy described in more detail above.”

Jamie Dawson KC, the Scottish counsel to the inquiry asked the civil servant: “So, you used text messages, WhatsApp messages, is that right, but you did not retain them above and beyond the interpretation of the policy that you’ve just set out for us?”

Prof Leitch replied: “Correct.”

The Herald:

Later, he said he understood that the guidance meant that  “any advice or any decisions or anything that should be in the corporate record was then placed in that corporate record by email, briefing, etc, and then you should delete the informal messaging."

"And that’s the guidance I followed," he added.

When it was put to him that his interpretation of the guidance could be wrong, and if it was then he had deleted messages he should have retained, Prof Leitch said that was a " hypothetical question with which I disagree."

"I think I have followed the Scottish Government guidance. And my interpretation of it is correct," he added.

READ MORE: Gregor Smith tells Covid Inquiry ScotGov advice 'to delete WhatApps'

He was also asked about a transcript of a WhatsApp conversation shared with the inquiry last, in which he claimed deleting WhatsApp messages was a “pre-bed ritual.”

Prof Leitch told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry: “I didn’t daily delete my WhatsApp. My position is – as I have just described to you – that I tried to do today’s work today and if I could assure myself that work had been managed and dealt with, then I would delete the informal messaging that had led to that moment.

“But this was a flippant exaggeration in an informal messaging group and it wasn’t done every day before I went to bed.”

Mr Dawson said the exchange would suggest that Prof Leitch and others were "keen to try to delete messages, which may subsequently be recoverable in our freedom of information request,"

"That isn't my position," he replied. 

The Chair of the inquiry, Lady Hallett asked Prof Leitch about the messages. He said: “There might be a suggestion that some of the messages – some of the people wanted to delete messages to avoid the messages being the subject of a freedom of information request. That would be wrong, wouldn’t it?”

Prof Leitch said: “Yes.”

Lady Hallett said: “When the Scottish Covid Inquiry was announced, did you seek any advice about deleting messages, or did you continue to delete messages in accordance with the policy as you saw it?”

Prof Leitch replied: “I continued to follow the guidance as I saw it.”

Lady Hallett asked: “You didn’t seek any help as to whether you should, given that there would be a judge who had the right to demand production of documents and information?”

The National Clinical Director replied: “I received advice from the Scottish Government, every time new advice came, which I think the inquiry has emails from the director general for corporate, as time passed, from both this inquiry and the Scottish inquiry, and I continued to follow that guidance.”