About 50 members of the scientific community have come out in support of Professor Glenda Gray following a request by the health department to launch an investigation into her.
Gray is the president of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and a renowned HIV vaccine researcher.
The department’s deputy director-general, Dr Anban Pillay, called for an investigation into Gray following comments she made in an interview with News24.
According to GroundUp, Pillay said Gray’s comments eroded public support for behaviour change, adding he had also received calls regarding her conduct as MRC president.
The group – made up of scientist, academics and policy experts including some members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee as well as other academics and medical experts – voiced its concern over the government’s actions against Gray in a statement on Saturday.
It condemned the threat against her “for expressing her opinion in public” which, it said, “is totally out of step with the public pronouncements made by the president, welcoming criticism”.
“We uphold the right to academic freedom of speech, and call on the South African 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 group said.
It also expressed commitment to being part of the complex response and debate in dealing with Covid-19, saying it recognised it was impossible to achieve a perfect response to the pandemic.
“[B]ut course correction should be rapid and not defensive,” the group added.
In an interview with News24, Gray expressed her views of the phased exit of the lockdown as well as regulation surrounding this, saying they had a harsh impact on the livelihoods of South Africans and were unscientific.