Current Affairs

EXCLUSIVE: Hancock speaks to Blue amidst student anger at G7 meeting in Oxford

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, spoke exclusively to The Oxford Blue this morning as he hosts the G7 health ministers’ meeting in Oxford.

He told the Blue that his priorities for the week’s meetings were twofold: to “help get the whole world out of this pandemic” and to work on an “early warning system” to help prevent new zoonotic diseases from causing further global pandemics.

To this end, Hancock said that the government had already succeeded in delivering the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine at cost price, with “no charge for intellectual property”. The success of this move could be seen, Hancock noted, in the fact that 96% of doses of coronavirus vaccines administered in “low-income countries” through the COVAX programme were Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines.

Further to this, Hancock vowed to work on a “clinical trials charter” to reduce friction between different global jurisdictions when working on medical trials to maximise how “powerful” the results of mass trials are.

Hancock spoke of Oxford being at the “forefront” of vaccine development and recovery trials; trials which led to the discovery that dexamethasone is an effective treatment for coronavirus. According to him, this find is estimated to have saved over a million lives already.

However, students in Oxford are less universally effusive about the partnership between the UK government and their University. In particular, many of those at the official host college for the G7 meetings, Mansfield, feel that student interests have been marginalised in order to flatter the public image of both the government and the University.

After months of tight COVID restrictions in the University of Oxford’s colleges, the decision to invite one of the leading spokesmen for the current Conservative government to Oxford has been controversial. This is particularly so given that he was recently found by the government’s advisor on ministerial standards, Lord Geidt, to have broken the ministerial code, albeit only in a “minor way”. Furthermore, while household mixing is still tightly regulated at Mansfield College it has deemed that hosting up to 80 G7 ministers and their staff is COVID-safe.

In an email to students at the college, Mansfield’s Principal, Helen Mountfield QC, said that during the event “all staff will be requested to take a daily covid-19 test” and that “we are keeping our guests as separate from College Members as possible” in order to minimise disruption and maximise COVID security.

Mountfield also suggested that: “If you live off-site, you may prefer to avoid travelling in to main site over this period.” Such warnings have struck some students as showing that the college has disregarded their importance, especially during the period when Final Examinations are taking place. Noise from the erection of a marquee on Mansfield’s main quad, as the main dining hall has been taken over by the G7 meeting, was a further source of consternation among students.

In response to the Blue‘s request to Mansfield College for comment, Helen Mountfield wrote: “We agreed to host on the basis that students would not be significantly disrupted and they have not been.” She added that hosting the G7 meetings “has also enabled us to afford to keep open college open [sic] for students in 9th and 10th weeks, and to keep the G7 marquee for student social events in that period, which we could not otherwise have afforded to do”.

When Hancock arrived at the college last night, one student approached him directly to ask him about funding cuts to the NHS and whether he truly believed that “trans lives matter”. Asked about his reception at a college which has often been seen as a bastion of access and social justice, Mr Hancock told the Blue that it had been “wonderful” and added that, with regards to the coronavirus pandemic, “we are all in this together” irrespective of other political beliefs.

This article has been updated to reflect the response of Mansfield College to the original piece.

Image credits: Number 10 on Flickr.