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BREAKING: Chaos in the Union chamber as positive COVID-19 case causes evacuation

Sasha Mills and Abigail Howe report on the discovery of a positive case in the chamber during the Oxford Union hustings debate.

An attendee of the Oxford Union hustings tested positive during the debate, leaving the chamber when they got the result. Close contacts were informed, and members were locked down in the chamber for a short period after the Presidential debate was cancelled. Cherwell was informed that the attendee received a positive test result during the course of the hustings, but attendees who were not close contacts were only informed of the case after the hustings had finished, soon after the attendee had identified themselves to Union staff. After everyone inside the chamber was evacuated, the chamber was sanitised and aerated.

Union President, Adam Roble, commented: “As soon as I heard about the possibility of a potentially positive Covid case, which could be a danger to our members and our guests, I made the decision to activate the protocols we had in place in order to protect the safety of our everyone involved in any way. Unfortunately, these required the evacuation of our chamber and the cancellation of the debate. I strongly believe in the current circumstances that this was the correct decision to make, and am hugely grateful to our security team, and our logistics team, led by the CCC, for their swift and effective action on this matter.”

Attendees then gathered on St Michael’s Street after being evacuated from the chamber and courtyard. One student that attended the event expressed their thoughts to Cherwell: “I guess there’s a perception that people in the Union think that they can do whatever they want, and I think this just reinforces that narrative – that even in terms of COVID-19, when people are dying, people are putting student politics over actual lives, and I think it’s horrific.” Entry for the debate – ‘This House Believes Veganism is the Only Ethical Choice’ – was at the same time as the entry for the hustings, with the hustings taking place before the debate.

According to government guidance, if you are contacted by Test and Trace and told to isolate, you are legally obliged to. NHS guidance states that if you or anyone else in your household has symptoms of COVID-19, you should isolate at home until you get your result. 

Some of the guests invited to the debate offered comment. Author Louis Gray said: “It’s a real shame that it’s been cancelled, but I’d love to come back. The point of a Union debate is to share ideas and to expand our own views of the world – we’ve done that this evening over dinner. It’s just a shame we didn’t get a chance to debate, but that’s a consequence of these crazy times and
prioritising everyone’s safety. I just think it’s brave to speak up in this situation and do the right thing. I look forward to doing this debate in due course.”

James Bailey, CEO of Waitrose, said: “I was delighted to be invited and it was a pleasure to meet the committee and the other speakers. It was a shame we weren’t able to speak but it was for all the right reasons. The Union took action as soon as it became aware and acted on protocol which had been put in place to put everyone’s safety first.”

During the hustings, the candidates for Secretary, Treasurer, Librarian and President each gave short speeches alongside responding to questions from the chamber.

There were also numerous questions about the impact or politicisation of sexual assault. Candidates all condemned the politicisation of sexual assault and expressed empathy for survivors. Molly Mantle and Viren Shetty, candidates for the position of President, expressed the need for following “formal procedure” and “due procedure” respectively.

Candidates were also asked to tell the chamber a joke and to name who they deemed the most influential thinker. Laughter ensued when one Union member attempted to pose a question from the balcony – they were told that, according to the rules of the Union, they had to walk downstairs and repeat their question.

Image Credit: Sasha Mills

16:30, 11/06/2021 – this article was updated following more information from the Oxford Union.

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