Breaking: News Crews Sent to Film Oxford Students Violating Social Distancing Rules

Image: Oxford High Street at the intersection of Cornmarket Street at night.

Edited 17:57 on 9/10/20 to include Oxford University press office’s statement.

Channel 4 and Meridian ITV will be sending camera crews to Oxford on the 9th October, tonight, with the hope of filming students breaking social distancing rules, according to an email sent to members of Trinity College JCR. 

An internal email from a senior staff member at Trinity College, addressed to all members of the JCR, states that “colleagues in the central university’s media relations team” had notified them that the media outlets will be visiting this evening. They go on to ask students to “consider the community when you are out of college”. 

They reinforced the fact that “you are under no obligation to give them permission to film if you are uncomfortable” and “they should not attempt to access college or university buildings”. The email suggests that the film crews have the intention of catching Oxford University students flouting government social distancing regulations on the first Friday night of term, saying “It would be really unfortunate if anyone in their first weekend back in Oxford got caught up in something that looks like a setup to shame Oxford students”.

National news outlets have been reporting extensively on rise in cases on university campuses across the UK. ITV reported on October 2nd that more than 700 students have already tested positive for coronavirus at Northumbria University. Oxford Brookes has also been under ITV’s spotlight for having 30 confirmed cases, with the article showing a camera phone picture of a large gathering of students. 

It is not a surprise that Oxford is so concerned about students giving the university a bad reputation on COVID safety issues. The university is currently heavily involved with multiple government programs to help study, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus. Oxford University and the Office for National Statistics have been working together to conduct a COVID-19 infection survey to document how many people have or have had the virus without knowing. Furthermore, the development of Oxford University’s ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine has received over £84 million in funding money from the UK government so far. 

The Daily Mail reports that the UK is seeing the steepest rise in new COVID-19 cases amongst 20-29 year olds, 9.2 to 28 cases per 100,000, since July 4th. The Mail quotes Matt Hancock telling young people on Radio 1 “don’t kill your gran” and says that health officials are “rattled” at the thought of twenty-somethings holding large parties. It’s easy to scapegoat younger people – they are the most social group in society and also the least affected by COVID-19 symptoms – but some see the idea that students aren’t taking the restrictions seriously as condescending. Many students are being encouraged to return to university accommodation if they do not have a valid health condition, which some believe is in order to maintain a steady stream of income through rent. The Health Secretary has suggested that students may be forced to remain on campus over the Christmas vacation if the infection rate does not improve. 

When contacted for comment, Oxford University press office stated that “Oxford University’s number one priority is the health and well-being of our students, staff and local community. The University has extensive safety measures in place and both staff and students are committed to responsible actions to protect themselves and others. All students have been asked to sign the COVID-19 Student Responsibility Agreement to affirm their commitment to protecting the health of everyone around them.”

Channel 4 press office has been contacted for comment. 

Image: Lionelleo, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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