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Ms Sturgeon first made the claim in the Scottish Parliament on 3 July

Scotland’s first minister has been rebuked by the UK statistics watchdog over her repeated claim that coronavirus rates in England are five times higher than Scotland.

The Office for Statistics Regulation said it had initially been “difficult” to identify the evidence for the claim.

It said the sources later cited by the Scottish government “do not allow for a meaningful comparison to be made”.

The Conservatives said Ms Sturgeon had been caught using “dodgy statistics”.

But the first minister insisted that evidence suggested that “the prevalence of the virus is significantly lower in Scotland right now than in England”.

She said that the UK government had not published prevalence rates for England, and “that is not down to me”.

And she accused the Conservatives of being so “blinded” by “bitter, partisan politics” that they cannot “welcome the fact that we have made such progress against a deadly virus.”

The statistics regulator has now sent a letter to the Scottish government’s chief statistician expressing its concern about Ms Sturgeon’s claim that the rate is five times higher in England.

It said the first minister had used data from an unpublished estimate of the prevalence of the virus that was compiled by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and had used a “UK estimate as a proxy for England”.

The Scottish prevalence figure was sourced from the Scottish government’s own estimates..

The letter added: “It is important to recognise that a comparison of COVID-19 prevalence rates is not straightforward.

“If it is to be undertaken, the results and the uncertainties should be communicated transparently.

“We do not think that the sources above allow for a quantified and un-caveated comparison of the kind that was made.”

The letter said that there were “lessons to be learned in this case, with different data sources being quoted to the media and to us.”

And it said that in future: “We expect that any figures used are appropriately sourced, explained and available in the public domain.”

The row came as official figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that Scotland had the third highest increase in its death rate in Europe in the months until the middle of June – with England seeing the biggest increase and Spain second.

By 29 May, the death rate in England was 7.5% higher than it has been in recent years.

Spain’s increase, 6.7%, was the second highest in the countries studied followed by Scotland’s rise of 5.1%.

Wales and Northern Ireland both also featured in the list of hardest-hit countries.

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A small group of protesters gathered at the border early last month to call for Scotland to be “kept Covid free”

The Scottish Conservatives accused Ms Sturgeon of claiming on at least seven occasions over the past month that the prevalence of the virus is five times higher in England than it is in Scotland.

Miles Briggs, the party’s health spokesman, said: “This verdict could not be more clear – the first minister repeatedly gave a misleading picture of the state of the ‎outbreak across the UK.

“This flawed analysis was the basis of major policy decisions and had serious repercussions for our tourism industry and our society.

“The first minister’s use of these dodgy statistics even led to repeated warnings that the border could be closed which, in turn, triggered ugly protests that have damaged Scotland’s reputation as a welcoming country.”

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