By Teddy Coward, Co-Editor-in-Chief
The Director of Public Health Bristol has faced criticism for saying students should view the coronavirus pandemic as ‘a gift’ for academic study, even as cases continue to mount in Bristol and across the country.
Speaking on a conference call hosted by Bristol West MP, Thangam Debbonnaire, on Wednesday, Gray said she wanted to ‘encourage’ all university students in Bristol ‘to recognise they are sitting in one of the most huge events’.
‘You’re in the middle of an enormous natural experiment,’ she added, ‘and whatever your discipline, whether it’s the arts or engineering or science, there will be some aspect of that that touches on your academic world’.
Christina Gray should apologise for these inappropriate and insensitive comments.— Simenskí (@PsychoPolitico) October 31, 2020
Speaking as a resident in central Bristol, I am *far* from “delighted” at being in the middle of a “natural experiment”. Covid-19 is not a “gift”. We face thousands dead per day within weeks. https://t.co/HcYJqLLZaz
The Director of Public Health, who has been in the role since February last year, went on to say she would ‘encourage [students] to see this, rather than as a deficit, as something which is a gift for you to take and to explore and learn.’
The comments have received criticism on Twitter, after the video was reposted, with one academic calling them ‘shocking’, while another Bristol local called for Gray to ‘apologise for these inappropriate and insensitive’ remarks.
The Q&A, which was part of an ongoing series of discussions regarding the pandemic, came just hours after Bristol became the first and only area in the UK to enter into a ‘Tier 1+’ coronavirus alert level.
This move followed a sharp rise in the number of confirmed cases in the city, after an additional 1,784 positive cases were reported in the seven days to 26 October.
Clarifying her comments, Gray told Epigram her words ‘were an encouragement to students, of all disciplines… to see the opportunities in what for many, is a very bleak place. To use the experience to explore and apply knowledge, thought and understanding through the various disciplines within which people are located.
‘Seeing something as a ‘gift’ is a way of facing adversity. Of making something out of awfulness,’ she added. ‘Not everyone will agree with this approach, of course, but it is one that many people have, and do, adopt to overcome terrible and life challenging events’.
Gray also said she ‘wanted to encourage students, through their application, research and learning, to support us, and indeed the world, to find a way through some of this.’
She explained her statement followed a ‘very warm welcome to the student body’ and that the ‘generation of young people are facing a challenge of disruption to lives, education and futures not seen in this country, probably since the last European war.’
The city’s rate of confirmed cases now stands at 386.5 per 100,000, which Bristol City Council have confirmed is ‘considerably higher than for the previous 7 days’.
In the biweekly statistics updated, published yesterday, Bristol City Council also said the region’s health system ‘is under considerable pressure’ and that ‘additional measures will be needed in the very near future’.
Bristol University has itself seen a steep increase in positive cases among staff and students since campus reopened just over a month ago.
Yesterday, the University reported an additional 32 students and four members of staff had tested positive for the virus, bringing the cumulative number of infections to 1,694.
Figures released by the University suggest the rolling seven-day average of positive tests among students is slowing, however, with the number of daily positive cases continuing to decrease from a peak of 91 two weeks’ ago.
Featured Image: Thangam Debbonaire / Facebook
What do you make of Christina Gray’s comments?