The Indian Institutes of Technology-Madras has temporarily shut down its academic departments and research labs after about 71 people, including 66 students, tested positive for the coronavirus since December 1, The Times of India reported on Monday.
The institute, which is now a coronavirus hotspot, has asked its students and staff staying on campus to quarantine in their rooms. They are being given food in packets, the institute said. Others have been told to work from home.
Public health officials noticed the surge in cases at the institute after 10 IIT students were admitted to the Institute of Ageing at the King Institute of Preventive Medicine in Guindy with severe to moderate symptoms of the infection. Data from government hospitals showed that 25 students were admitted since December 1.
Two people tested positive for the coronavirus on December 1, and 14 new cases were reported on December 10. Since December 11, the campus has added 55 more cases to its tally.
“We saw sporadic admissions, but when a group of people were admitted on Saturday, we alerted [the] officials,” a senior doctor at the Guindy hospital said. “Most patients are recovering well.”
IIT-Madras Director Bhaskar Ramamurthi said they have consulted civic authorities to test all the 774 students on the campus. In a statement, Ramamurthi said that the institute was functioning at a limited capacity, with 10% of students staying in hostels. He said that research scholars who were conducting experimental work and project staff were still on the campus.
“An SoP [standard operating procedure] is in place to determine how many scholars and project staff can work safely in each lab based on its size, ventilation etc,” the institute said, according to NDTV. “Research scholars who wished to return earlier were permitted to do so if they were willing to stay off campus similar to project staff, till their turn came to be accepted in the hostels, and provided their lab could accommodate them.”
Ramamurthi said that their capacity to provide quarantine room with food service is limited, reducing the number of students and scholars who can return to the campus.
Meanwhile, the IIT students have alleged that overcrowding at a mess was the reason behind the spread of the infection. They said that only one mess was operational in the institute. “Earlier, we could do with just one mess as there were fewer students on campus,” a research scholar told The Times of India. “But after students returned, the mess was crowded. Mess is not a place where we wear our masks. So all of us were vulnerable.”
The institute management and health officials, however, have not yet identified the cause of the rise in coronavirus cases.
Tamil Nadu has so far reported 7,98,888 coronavirus cases, the health ministry data showed. While 11,895 people have died of the virus in the state, as many as 7,76,878 have recovered.