SNP minister accused of spreading ‘fake news’ over ‘misleading’ Covid tweet

John Swinney warns there are ‘still dangers’ despite vaccine

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Deputy First Minister John Swinney tweeted a graphic about the risk from Covid on the day that restrictions are eased to Level Zero across Scotland. The Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery tweeted the image which claims there is a 0 per cent risk of transmitting Covid as long as you wear a mask and stand six feet apart.

The graphic, produced by an unknown source, makes several other claims about the percentage risk from wearing or not wearing a face mask.

Accompanying the graphic, Mr Swinney also tweeted: “As we move to Level 0 in Scotland – marking good progress on our careful process of relaxing restrictions – this is a helpful graphic showing why we must use face coverings and keep our distance.”

However, the claims shared in the image do not appear to be supported by evidence.

The claims were also questioned by fact-checking services such as Reuters and the Danish site TjekDet.

Questioning the Tweet, the Reuters fact-checking service said the claim was “not substantiated”.

They added: “Although some health authorities recommend the use of masks to help limit the spread of COVID-19, Reuters could not find any evidence to back up these percentages.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also told Reuters via email that wearing masks is recommended as a way of strengthening social distancing, but they do not have data to measure how this affects the risk of transmission.

Annie Wells MSP, Scottish Conservative health spokesman, said: “John Swinney should delete this misleading graphic.

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“It wrongly sends a message that there is no risk from Covid in certain circumstances and makes several claims that appear to be unfounded.

“This looks unnecessarily reckless coming from a senior SNP Government minister.

“We’ve all got a duty to call out fake news and this misleading post blurs the well-intentioned message he seems to be trying to send that wearing masks can reduce the spread of the virus.

“The Covid Recovery Secretary needs to wise up and be more careful when sending public health messages, especially on the day that restrictions are eased across Scotland.”

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Jackie Baillie MSP, Scottish Labour deputy leader, said: “It is absolutely essential that public health advice shared by the government is clear, consistent and accurate.

“As the cabinet secretary for Covid recovery, the least we could expect from John Swinney is to avoid sharing fake news.

“This is especially true of content minimising the risk of spreading Covid, particularly if there isn’t a scientific basis for the claim.”

Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s National Clinical Director also said last year that “face coverings are an important element of risk reduction, but they do not make you invincible”.

In response, the Scottish Government defended Mr Swinney’s actions of tweeting the graphic but declined to comment on the claims about face coverings.

A spokesperson said: “The science – and the DFM’s message – is clear: masks and physical distancing help prevent transmission of COVID-19, and it is important people do not undermine public health messaging by suggesting otherwise.”

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