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33 more test positive on IIT Madras campus

Collectors told to keep a tab on educational institutions.

The Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) has shut down all departments after the campus turned into a COVID-19 cluster with 71 persons, including 66 students, testing positive since December 1.

In a circular on Sunday, the institute said it decided to close all departments, centres and the library immediately until further notice.

All faculty members, project staff members and research scholars would work from home, while students, scholars and project staff members staying on the campus were advised to confine themselves to their hostel rooms.

Following the development, Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan wrote to all Collectors and the Chennai Corporation Commissioner to keep a watch on educational institutions and hostels and encourage takeaway food.

“Anyone with remote symptoms or those who return from other States should be strictly monitored, tested and isolated if positive for COVID-19,” he said.

“Sporadic cases were reported from the institute since December 1. However, there was a spike in the last three to four days. As of now, 66 students, four mess workers and one other person in the resident quarters have tested positive…out of 277 samples lifted,” the Health Secretary said.

All those who tested positive are stable and being treated at the Government Corona Hospital, Guindy.

From December 1 to 10, 16 persons tested positive. This was followed by 11 cases on Friday last, 12 on Saturday and 32 on Sunday.

Mr. Radhakrishnan said the reason for more cases in the last one day was due to contact-tracing — testing of primary and secondary contacts and persons with symptoms. “As per public health protocols, we have advised the institute to put in place effective smart containment measures and avoid unnecessary movement. Out of the nine hostels and one guesthouse, there are more cases in two hostels. The Health Department, Greater Chennai Corporation, in coordination with the IIT-M, has put in place standard operating procedures. We will be testing 774 students; samples of 408 students have already been lifted,” he said.

IIT-M has asked the students to stay at the hostels, providing them with single-room accommodation and packed food. Apart from essential laboratory activities, they have been asked not to operate, he said.

Officials said the mess was closed on December 9, and a new catering service was arranged by the management. As more students tested positive, the dining hall was closed on December 10 and distribution of packed food to the rooms was started.

“The cause of the spurt — whether it was due to the mess or imported cases — is being separately analysed. Meanwhile, we have asked all Collectors to keep a watch on colleges and hostels following the reopening. They have been told to have active fever surveillance measures. In case of any such cluster or localised spurt, they should take effective containment measures,” the Health Secretary said.

In a statement, authorities of the IIT-M said they had been functioning with only 10% students in the hostels, and as soon as a spurt in symptomatic cases was reported, they had arranged for all students in the hostels to be tested after consulting the civic authorities.

The institute was permitting research scholars, who need to do experimental work, to return to the campus after a 14-day quarantine and testing. Some project staff members working on research projects from the city had been coming to the laboratories after the government permitted this activity.

“We will attempt to increase our capacity to quarantine returning students since the government is releasing the hostels it took custody of to quarantine COVID-19 patients during the last seven months,” the institute said.