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UK COVID-19 Inquiry: Humza Yousaf admits 'winging it' as Scotland's health secretary during pandemic

Messages have emerged of Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf admitting to "winging it" during his role as health secretary at the height of the COVID pandemic.

The UK COVID Inquiry has released WhatsApp exchanges between Mr Yousaf and Scotland's national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch from June 2021.

The discussion happened shortly after Mr Yousaf was appointed health secretary and saw him joke that he was "winging it! And will get found out sooner rather than later", followed by a laughing emoji.

On the same day of the exchange, the Scottish government issued a "state of the pandemic" document reporting a 35% rise in COVID cases around that time.

Sky News has approached Mr Yousaf's office for comment.

The UK COVID-19 Inquiry has already heard from Mr Yousaf as it takes evidence during a series of sessions in Edinburgh.

Appearing on Thursday, the now first minister offered an "unreserved" apology for the Scottish government's "frankly poor" handling of requests from the inquiry for WhatsApp messages to be handed over.

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon has wiped her messages and Mr Yousaf's exchanges had to be recovered after also becoming lost. The pair say they were following Scottish government policy on informal messages.

Mr Yousaf said he accepted this would have caused "serious grief and retrauma" for those who lost loved ones and announced an external review into his administration's use of mobile messaging.

Read more:
COVID adviser Professor Jason Leitch denies daily purge of WhatsApps
Scotland's chief medical officer told colleagues to delete WhatsApps 'at end of every day'

'We should have done better'

Asked about WhatsApp messages from the time of the pandemic, which the inquiry requested from the Scottish government, Mr Yousaf said: "Let me unreservedly apologise to this inquiry, but also to those who are mourning the loss of a loved one, who were bereaved by COVID, for the government's frankly poor handling of the various Rule 9 requests in relation to informal messages.

"There is no excuse for it, we should have done better and it is why I reiterate that apology today."

Mr Yousaf conceded there was "clearly a gap" in the mobile message policy in relation to how material in informal messages should be retained.

Ms Sturgeon will appear at the inquiry on Wednesday.