As Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr. Catherine Calderwood has been the face of government ads telling the public to stay home to save lives. But the revelation she hasn’t been following those rules herself forced her to resign late Sunday, after she was busted making an unauthorized visit to her family’s second home.
Calderwood, the Scottish government’s top medical adviser in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, was outed by the Scottish Sun newspaper, which published photographs of the doctor near her second home in the coastal village of Earlsferry, a 75-minute drive from her primary residence in Edinburgh.
The pictures sparked a wave of criticism that she was undermining the government lockdown order, which bans people from any non-essential travel. Calderwood apologized Sunday for her “mistake” in breaching her own advice, acknowledging she did not have “legitimate reasons” for the trip and revealing she had actually traveled to her Earlsferry home on two separate occasions.
She initially resisted calls to resign, before issuing a statement late Sunday saying she had realized her situation was untenable.
“People across Scotland know what they need to do to reduce the spread of this virus and that means they must have complete trust in those who give them advice,” she said. “It is with a heavy heart that I resign as chief medical officer.”
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Calderwood’s actions drew widespread criticism from politicians and police, who revealed officers visited the doctor in person Sunday to issue her a warning.
“Earlier today, local officers visited Dr Catherine Calderwood and spoke to her about her actions, reiterated crucial advice and issued a warning about her future conduct, all of which she accepted,” said Chief Constable Iain Livingstone. “The legal instructions on not leaving your home without reasonable excuse apply to everyone.”
The British government has instructed people to stay home and only leave their homes if they have a “reasonable excuse,” such as exercise, shopping for necessities, attending to a medical need, providing care to a vulnerable person, or travelling to work if it is impossible to work from home.
Police have the power to issue £30 ($37) penalty fines for people who breach the restrictions, but are using this power only as a last resort when people refuse to follow instructions. Livingstone said Friday that Scottish police were using their enforcement powers “very infrequently” — only when there was an “absolute refusal” to comply with the order — issuing just 144 such fines last week.
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Last month, the Scottish government issued a travel warning criticizing the “irresponsible” actions of people travelling to second homes in the Scottish Highlands, where any rise in infections could have a devastating impact on the region’s scant healthcare resources. Even the heir to the British throne hasn’t been exempt from criticism: Prince Charles was slammed on social media when it was revealed he had travelled to his Balmoral estate in the Scottish Highlands while suffering mild coronavirus symptoms. He tested positive two days later.
Willie Rennie, an opposition lawmaker who represents the North East Fife constituency, where Calderwood has her second home, said residents there are angry about a wave of people travelling to their second homes in the area, despite the lockdown.
Calderwood’s resignation comes just days after New Zealand’s health minister, David Clark, was embroiled in a similar scandal when he was photographed out mountain biking, in breach of government guidance to exercise safely and locally.
Clark was outed by a member of the public who took a photo of his van, which was painted with his name and photograph, parked near a trail about 1.5 miles from his home; Clark admitted he had made a mistake by doing an exercise with a higher risk of injury, and leaving the area immediately around his home.
He was publicly criticized by fellow ministers, including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but they said an apology would suffice and there was no need to resign over the lapse. Finance Minister Grant Robertson told reporters Friday that Clark knew he had messed up.
“He needs to lead by example, and he didn’t do that in this case,” he said. “We don't want the Minister of Health out mountain biking.” Listen and subscribe: Via Apple Podcasts | Via Spotify | Via Stitcher or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
Cover: Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Catherine Calderwood gestures as she holds a briefing on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in Edinburgh, Thursday March 26, 2020. (Press Association via AP Images)