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Common dining facility led to COVID-19 cluster, suspect IIT-Madras students

With higher educational institutions in various states having started in-person classes or contemplating resuming classes, the Covid-19 cluster in IIT-Madras has raised safety concerns. IITans who were on campus told Zee media that the most likely cause of the spread of Covid-19 was the common dining area that was shared by over 700 students.

Over 100 Covid-19 cases were reported from the institute, at a time when the IIT has been functioning on limited capacity with only 10% students in the hostels. According to the institute, they have asked all students to remain in their rooms and are supplying packed food in the rooms.

IIT Madras has been permitting research scholars pursuing experimental work to return to campus after a 14-day (on-campus) quarantine and testing. However, owing to the limited quarantine capacity on the campus, the rate at which scholars are being brought back has been limited, said the Institute in a statement.

The Institute has said that some Project Staff working on research and staying in the city have been coming to work in the labs, as permitted by the government. They added that SoPs were in place to determine how many scholars and project staff can work safely in each lab based on its size, ventilation etc.

Tamil Nadu Health Secretary Dr. J. Radhakrishnan told Zee Media that 103 cases have been reported from the IIT campus out of 440 samples tested. He added that all of those(nearly 770 persons) on campus were being tested in the order of primary contacts, close contacts, symptomatic people, mess staff etc.

When asked about the common dining area that possibly led to the cluster, he said that the health department had advised the Institute to close the common dining area and provide takeaway meals.

Students also pointed out that while the institute had ensured individual hostel rooms and lesser number of students sharing washrooms, day scholars were coming to campus in small numbers. While there was a general advisory asking students no to venture out, students say many among them may have stepped out of the campus and could have contracted the infection from outside the premises, as well.

IIT Madras has said that they would attempt to increase capacity to quarantine returning students, as the government was releasing the hostels that were used to quarantine patients through the lockdown.

As on Sunday, there are 10,208 active Covid-19 cases in Tamil Nadu and 1,276 persons (including 340 in Chennai) had tested positive over the last 24hours.