NICOLA Sturgeon has been urged to “come clean” after it was reported by the Sunday Times she overruled advisors who suggested telling the public about a coronavirus outbreak at a major conference.

The First Minister, who denies she attempted to suppress information, is coming under increasing pressure over the timeline of events surrounding the Nike Conference in Edinburgh before the pandemic officially started in Scotland.

According to emails released under Freedom of Information laws, Ms Sturgeon’s closest aide Liz Lloyd said the outbreak was “a legitimate public interest matter” in an email on March 5.

She wrote that former health secretary Jeane Freeman, Ms Sturgeon and Gregor Smith, then-deputy chief medical officer (CMO) , “are conscious that a number of Scotland’s cases now connect to one event.”

She said that disclosing this information “could be reassuring... for the public” as it would show that “contact tracing works” and “we’re still at containment”. 

Ms Lloyd added that the issue was a “legitimate public interest matter.” 
However the following Day, then-CMO Catherine Calderwood said via email that her “strong advice” would be to “not say anything here specifically”.

She said doing so would breach “patient confidentiality” and added that there were “international sensitivities” around the outbreak, which saw one infected person spread the virus to 38 others in February 2020. 

Ms Calderwood wrote: “Any statement would require international sign off- this would be extremely difficult due to the ongoing investigation and the sensitivity here...”adding that contact tracing was “still ongoing”.

Ms Sturgeon appears to have sided with Ms Calderwood, as the information was not made public until a BBC documentary three months later revealed that there was a case of Covid at the event.

Ms Calderwood resigned from her post after she broke lockdown rules when she visited her second home, and Mr Smith took over.

Last week, health protection Scotland confirmed that a single case of Covid among 71 delegates at the Nike conference led to 38 further infections, but no deaths were linked to the conference.

Ms Sturgeon has denied that the outbreak was covered up but said she understood concerns over the way information about the conference cases was handled.

The situation is to examined in more detail during a public inquiry into the  handling of coronavirus, which is due to be established before the end of the year.

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: “These revelations must be scrutinised fully by any public inquiry. Whilst we knew Calderwood had advised against transparency on grounds of patient confidentiality and the first minister sided with her, it hadn’t been appreciated until now that the first minister did so against the advice of her own health secretary and chief adviser.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP, said: “Nicola Sturgeon must urgently come clean on the scale of this cover-up. These are further damning revelations about the earliest known outbreak of the virus in Scotland.

“There should have been full transparency from the First Minister and the SNP Government at the earliest opportunity. As someone working in the health service as Covid struck, I know we would have been able to respond better if we knew exactly what we were dealing with and when.

“Nicola Sturgeon must be upfront. Was this the only occasion where she overruled medical advisers and senior colleagues? Is this the only time the public were kept in the dark over an outbreak?

“She has regularly claimed to have followed the science during the pandemic, but went against one of her chief medical advisers at the very outset.

“The public deserve to know the whole truth as quickly as possible surrounding this conference.”

The Scottish government said “all appropriate steps” were taken to protect public health following the Nike conference. More than 60 contacts were traced in Scotland and about 50 others in England.

A spokesman said: “While the Nike conference in Edinburgh was one of several routes by which Covid-19 came to Scotland, the University of Glasgow’s genome sequencing report confirms that the local public health response was effective in managing and containing spread of that particular strain of Covid-19 in Scotland.”