First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she takes responsibility for decisions about moving elderly patients from hospitals to care homes at the start of the pandemic.
The SNP leader said she wished the clock could be turned back but policies were “what we thought were best” at the time.
Ms Sturgeon’s comments were made days after Health Secretary Jeane Freeman admitted moving patients from hospital was a “mistake”.
Ms Freeman, who is retiring, said the Scottish Government had failed in understanding the social care sector well enough and “we didn’t take the right precautions”.
At a briefing on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon was asked if she took responsibility for decisions on care homes.
Ms Sturgeon said she has “always taken responsibility and readily apologised for any things the government got wrong”.
She added: “Back in late February into March last year, we were faced with a horrendous situation with horrendous decisions that flowed from that.
“We were watching pictures on televisions of hospitals in Italy being over-run by Covid and back then we didn’t have the hindsight we all have now.
“We were having to take the decisions we thought were best.
“We thought it was wrong to leave older people in hospitals that were about to be over-run with Covid.
“We thought they we would be safer in other settings, with the right infection protection procedures and isolation procedures in place, and we didn’t know what we know now about asymptomatic transmission.”
Ms Sturgeon said deaths were significantly lower in the “second wave” as lessons were learned.
I wish I could turn the clock back, know everything then that we know now and make different decisions at the outset. But I can’t do that.”
The Scottish Government committed to a full public inquiry, which could begin later this year.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Believe me when I say I carry the weight of this every single day and always will, in terms of the decisions that were taken.
“I wish I could turn the clock back, know everything then that we know now and make different decisions at the outset. But I can’t do that.”
Ms Freeman’s original comments were made in an interview on the BBC’s Politically Thinking podcast as the death toll from Covid in Scotland reached 10,000.
She said: “We wanted people who didn’t need to stay in hospital any longer – because they’d been treated and were clinically well – to be discharged as quickly as possible so we freed up those beds for Covid patients.
“Remember, the early predictions about the number of people going into hospital were terrifying, actually.
“But we didn’t take the right precautions to make sure that older people leaving hospital, going into care homes, were as safe as they could be and that was a mistake.”
In the early stages of the pandemic, the SNP’s political opponents also warned the tragedy could have been avoided if care packages were available when patients were ready.
It exposed the scandal of delayed discharges, also known as “bed blocking”, when patients are unable to leave hospital because there is nowhere for them to go.