Picture: 123RF/SAMSONOVS
Picture: 123RF/SAMSONOVS

There has been considerable support from the medical, scientific and academic establishment for Glenda Gray’s criticism about the government’s handling of the lockdown.

A number of medical, scientific and academic professionals have condemned the threat of a probe against Gray, president of the Medical Research Council, for publicly expressing her opinion.

Gray is also a member of the ministerial advisory committee (MAC), a group of scientists tasked with advising the government during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The support for her comes after Gray took a public stand last weekend against the government’s lockdown strategy, saying it should be ended and replaced with non-pharmaceutical interventions such as handwashing, wearing masks and social distancing.

In an interview with News24, Gray is quoted as criticising the government’s lockdown approach as “unscientific”, and that it seemed as if the government was “sucking regulations out of their thumb and implementing rubbish”.

Anban Pillay, acting director-general of the health department, has requested an investigation into Gray’s conduct, saying that allegations she has made in the media “are damaging to the government’s response to Covid-19”.

He said “these media statements cause confusion and are likely to erode public support for behaviour change”. 

In a statement of support for Gray by about 250 professionals, the principle of academic freedom of speech is highlighted.

“We uphold the right to academic freedom of speech and call on the SA government to engage openly with alternate views, and for all of us to urgently work towards constructive solutions regarding policy, in the interests of the country,” the statement says.

The SA Gastroenterology Society is also standing in solidarity with Gray, saying that “we must not allow organs of state to silence views in uncertain times”.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it very uncertain times. Given this uncertainty, diversity of opinion must be embraced at scientific, civil society and policy level,” the statement says. We stand in opposition to those who seek to use state institutions or functionaries to bully, marginalise and besmirch our colleagues because they express different views to those held by the government. 

The Sowetan reported that Wits university’s perinatal HIV research unit on Sunday said calls for Gray to be investigated for speaking about the lockdown are an insult to academic freedom and a violation of her right to freedom of expression.

When approached, the MRC would not say about Pillay’s recommendations about an investigation against Gray.

Correction: May 24 2020

An earlier version of this article said 50 professionals had signed a statement of support fro Glenda Gray. In fact it was 250 professionals who had signed the statement.