Don’t lock up students, let them enjoy university says Oxford epidemiologist

11 October 2020, 12:38 | Updated: 11 October 2020, 12:42

By Joe Cook

Oxford epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta has called for university students to be allowed to “live their lives properly” and not be “locked up” in their halls.

Professor Gupta made her remarks to Tom Swarbrick on Sunday on LBC, during a debate with public health professor Sian Griffiths, who co-chaired Hong Kong’s SARS inquiry.

Professor Gupta, who backs a return to a herd immunity strategy for those who are not vulnerable, told Tom that as a university teacher, she was willing to take the personal risk and meet students face to face, but recognised students should be kept away from the vulnerable.

“Please, please can we let the university students live their lives properly. We really owe it to them,” she said.

“We need to keep them away from people, for the moment as a temporary measure, let's say between now and Christmas.

“In fact it is almost - it is a present thrown up to us. Let them be in their halls, mingle among themselves, get the education they need face to face from those of us who are not vulnerable.

“They are being locked up, but we don’t need to lock them up. Let them, please, enjoy the benefits of a university education, they really deserve it.”

Figures published by the University and College Union show more than 10,000 university students have been infected since term began, with thousands self-isolating in halls.

Professor Sunetra Gupta spoke on LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday
Professor Sunetra Gupta told Tom, as a university teacher, she was willing to take the personal risk and meet students face to face. Picture: LBC, Oxford university

Ms Gupta is controversial among epidemiologists for calling for a policy of herd immunity and was one of the authors of ‘the Great Barrington declaration’, which said “those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal”.

Professor Griffiths, Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explained that “it is not only the Government, it is also SAGE that would say we don't know enough about the virus” to aim for herd immunity.

“The problem with herd immunity is that there are many people who will suffer on the way and really none of the underpinning value should be above all do no harm."

She added: “It is easy to say we'll protect the vulnerable, it is much more difficult to do, as we found out when we had the first lockdown.

“Yes there are issues and difficulties in living our lives at the moment because of the restrictions, but if you have a lockdown and you put the vulnerable into isolation, including elderly people again I don't know how you weigh that against letting other people go to pubs and restaurants.”

However, Professor Gupta contended: “As for lockdowns... it is a short term thing, we have played that card already.

“What we need is a way beyond lockdown and that is what we are offering up for debate, not for abuse and all the other criticism we are getting.”