The SNP Government has been "missing in action" as Covid cases surged to record levels in Scotland, it has been alleged after the Health Secretary defended taking a holiday to visit the Harry Potter studios near London.

Humza Yousaf took his 12-year-old stepdaughter on a pre-planned tour of the Warner Brothers studios in Watford he had promised her as treat at the start of the Scottish school holidays.

In a series of tweets defending the trip, he said his "most important job" was being a good father and husband to his family, and he would not apologise for "giving them the very limited time I do".

But the Scottish Tories said he had "disappeared" as Covid cases climbed steeply in Scotland, with rates almost twice as high as England’s and four times those of Wales.

They also cited reports suggesting that Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney were also on holiday, noting that no SNP minister was available to appear on BBC Scotland’s evening news bulletin twice this week to discuss the Covid spike.

Stephen Kerr, the Scottish Tory chief whip, said: "It looks like the SNP are hiding from scrutiny because they have lost control of the virus in Scotland. This is not the time for Humza Yousaf to be dressing up in wizard’s robes, it’s the time for leadership."

Scotland’s infection rate is now higher than England’s

Scotland has posted a series of record daily case totals in the past fortnight, rising to 4,234 last Thursday. Tayside, Lothian, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Fife and Lanarkshire remain in the top ten worst-hit areas in Europe.

Mr Yousaf’s trip to the Harry Potter studios also coincided with major delays in Scotland’s Test and Protect contact tracing system as it struggled to cope with the case surge.

He was spotted at the attraction by Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the Scottish Tories’ shadow public health minister and a GP, who was visiting it at the same time.

Defending the trip, the Health Secretary tweeted: "Most important job I have is being a good father, step-father and husband to my wife and kids. In the last 7 months they’ve had virtually no time from me.

"Pandemic has been tough for everyone and I am luckier than most but it has been tough for my 12-year-old step-daughter who missed her friends during her P7 year. As a treat, I promised this Harry Potter fan a trip to HP Studios months ago (if restrictions allowed) when school finished."

He insisted that he had worked "every day I have taken ‘off’, including speaking to clinicians and vaccine teams, and "my family don’t see me much at all".

Mr Yousaf also accused the Tories of hypocrisy given Dr Gulhane was also at the attraction, although the newly-elected Conservative MSP is not in charge of Scotland’s NHS.

"Your shadow public health minister was at HP World at the same time as me, we bumped into each other and said hello. So I can only assume it’s Scottish Government ministers who aren’t allowed to spend time with family?" he added.

But Mr Kerr said: "The SNP have abandoned the day job at the worst possible moment, just as a third wave of Covid strikes.

"At a critical moment, there is a complete absence of leadership from the SNP Government. Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and Humza Yousaf have disappeared from view." 

The First Minister’s official spokesman was approached for comment.