Nicola Sturgeon’s “instinct” was to cancel a Euro 2021 fanzone which was linked to dozens of coronavirus cases, but her successor as first minister told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that allowing it to go ahead was the “right decision”.
The inquiry was shown a series of WhatsApp messages between Humza Yousaf, then Scotland’s health secretary, and Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch ahead of the Euros discussing concerns around the fanzone planned in Glasgow.
Mr Leitch said then-first Mmnister Nicola Sturgeon’s “instinct says cancel fanzone”, estimated to cost £6 million, but she was asking for more advice.
Mr Yousaf warned “we will lose the dressing room” if the fanzone is scrapped, adding: “People want to watch the match with friends and family, after waiting 23 years for Scotland to qualify.”
He raised concerns over fans socialising while watching games leading to cases increasing.
Messages after the Euros show the two discussing case numbers, with Mr Leitch telling the then-health secretary “keep your fingers crossed it’s a temporary Euros phenomenon”.
Mr Yousaf wrote: “Let’s hope the next week doesn’t see a surge in our hospitals.”
Inquiry counsel Jamie Dawson KC said talk of keeping fingers crossed had surfaced repeatedly and asked if this indicates the Scottish Government was relying on “instinct and luck” in its pandemic response.
Mr Yousaf said: “I reject that charge in its entirety. I was health secretary, I was always going to be the person who would want to do more in terms of restrictions.”
He told the inquiry in a week in which 1,191 people reported testing positive after travelling to one or more Euro events while infectious, nearly two thirds had headed to Euro events in London, while only 55 cases were linked to the Glasgow fanzone that week.
Mr Yousaf said: “You’ve got high case numbers in Glasgow, you’ve got a huge footballing event and you’ve got to make a decision.
“If we close fanzone, how many people end up in pubs?”
He said the decision to keep the fanzone open was “not an easy decision to make” but he believes that “ultimately the right decision was made”.