Headline and image chosen by Editor.
There is now so much heat – rather than light – being generated by the corporate media and opposition politicians in Holyrood over the “Nike Conference” incident. So, it seems appropriate, and timely, to get some context when assessing its likely significance. Please bear with this as we construct the argument.
The media’s ‘big’ claim
One of the most read newspapers in Edinburgh chose this headline on 11 May:
The newspaper was amplifying, uncritically for Edinburgh residents the content of a BBC Scotland documentary: “A conference staged by sports goods giant Nike at an Edinburgh hotel was ‘Ground Zero’ for the coronavirus outbreak in Scotland and subsequent delays introducing lockdown measures cost more than 2,000 lives, a BBC documentary reported tonight.”
So the implication seems clear: one event attendee coming into Edinburgh is being identified as THE critical originator of Scotland’s subsequent epidemic and associated with ‘more than 2,000’ deaths. That’s a big claim! And it begs at least one important question.
Was there more than one visitor to Edinburgh?
How many visitors from across the world arrived into Edinburgh around the same time? Given the incubation period for Covid-19 is between 7 and 14 days, we attempt a rough (order of magnitude) estimate – making assumptions clear – of visitors arriving into Edinburgh during the month of February 2020 i.e. in the period immediately before and during the Nike event.
We focus only on visitors coming by air and we restrict this to ones using Edinburgh Airport. We base this estimate on Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data.
The CAA data source
The CAA data give overall passenger numbers using the airport; numbers using non-UK carriers; and numbers for named international destinations. We need to make a key assumption. The CAA gives aggregate totals for inbound plus outbound passengers for each of these metrics: we make the assumption that the number of inbound passengers to Edinburgh Airport is 50% of the inbound plus outbound totals. (Candidly, the ‘point’ being made is not sensitive to the precise ratio!)
Inbound air travellers to Edinburgh Airport
The inbound passenger numbers based on the CAA data for February 2020 and our stated assumption are set out below.
Inbound from Coronavirus ‘hotspots’
We focus now on passengers arriving in February 2020 from what was already a known Covid-19 ‘hotspot’, namely Northern Italy.
For background, we know that: “On 22 February, there were 54 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Italy. By 2 March, that number had surged to 1,694.”
We present CAA data for the area as a whole (aggregate of data for all airports in Northern Italy) and also data for selected individual northern Italian airports.
And the point is?
It’s simple is it not? In addition to the ONE infected Nike employee receiving ALL the media and opposition politicians’ attention, during February there were a ‘few’ other people coming to Edinburgh, and Scotland, through Edinburgh Airport.
A ‘few’ others? Well actually many others – an estimate of c. 17,000 from Northern Italy, a location where Covid-19 was taking a strong hold. It’s just possible – is it not – that one, two or ‘more’ of these 17,000 souls who left a Covid-19 ‘hotspot’ to travel to Edinburgh may have contributed to a ‘ground zero’, rather than just one Nike employee.
The Nike event was held in Edinburgh on 26 and 27 February, 2020. The story being reported is that one of 70 Nike employees attending the conference from across the world brought the virus to Edinburgh, infected many of their fellow delegates who then took it back to their own countries. Of the 25 confirmed cases linked to the event, eight were residents of Scotland – presumably all identified, known about by some international contact tracing.
For further context, Scotland’s first confirmed case of Covid-19 was in Tayside on 1 March.