The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras had to temporarily shut down all its departments, centres and library this week after 71 people tested positive for the coronavirus since early this month. The faculty, staff and research scholars have been ordered to work from home.

According to health authorities, 71 covid cases were reported in the last two weeks, of which 66 are students, four mess staff and one from resident quarters. The single-day highest spike was on Sunday with 32 fresh cases and the number is likely to go up in the next couple of days with Tamil Nadu government instructing the institute to test all the students on the campus.

IIT Madras

Education center turns into 'Covid-19 cluster'

In an official circular on Sunday, the institution informed the shutting down of all departments and facilities with immediate effect.

"In view of the recent spike in Covid cases in the hostel sector, it has been decided to shut down all departments, Centres and the library immediately until further notice. All faculty, staff, project staff and research scholars will work from home until such time. All students, scholars and project staff staying on campus are advised strictly to confine themselves to their hostel rooms and maintain social distance at all times for their own safety," it read.

The advisories issued earlier by the administration, Tamil Nadu government and the Government of India are to be fully complied with.

"In case of any symptoms of Covid (fever, dry cough, sore throat, diarrhea, loss of taste/smell, or any other symptoms) you are required to contact the IIT Madras hospital authorities immediately," the circular stated.

coronavirus cases
The WHO reported 71,484 new cases in the United States, 45,403 in Brazil, 34,884 in India and 13,373 in South Africa.Reuters

Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan has told the media that the authorities are working closing with IIT Madras to contain the spread.

"These kinds of localised clusters are expected. We suspect the common mess, where students get together, to be the cause and advised the administration to close the mess and deliver the food directly to the residents. We have asked the institute to conduct tests on everyone and Chennai Corporation will be assisting them in disinfecting the hotspots," Radhakrishnan added.

There are nine student hostels and one guest house from where Covid cases were reported. A total of 774 students are currently residing on the campus, and samples were collected from 408 students as of now. Krishna hostel reported a maximum of 22 Covid cases followed by 20 cases from Jamuna.

Back to school may be a risk

The IIT shutdown may have its impact elsewhere, especially at a time when several state governments are planning to reopen schools before the 2020-21 academic session ends, to save the academic year. Andhra Pradesh and Assam have already allowed students to return to schools since November, though attendance at schools remains voluntary. As per the Centre's guidelines, parents can decide whether their wards return to school or not, keeping the pandemic situation in view.

However, the reopening move has been welcomed by some parents who are concerned about their wards losing the entire academic year. Since the vaccine is still a few months away, the pandemic has shown how the reopening of schools in the US has led to closure within a few weeks after a surge in the spread of coronavirus among the teachers and students. For now, schools in India are allowed to reopen in some states provided they follow all the protocols to prevent any spike in Covid-19 cases. 

Indian school children take part in a 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan' cleaning campaign in Hyderabad on February 12, 2018.NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)

After reopen, some schools are working on a hybrid class model, thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting school rooms and campuses at regular intervals for formal classes, while educating students to accustom to it and learn in a safe and hygienic environment. 

Tamil Nadu recorded 1,195 positive cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the state tally to 7,98,888. Among these, Chennai reported 340 positive cases, bringing the city's total to 2,19,861. The state recorded 12 deaths on Sunday, putting the state toll at 11,895. Ten of them had succumbed due to comorbidities while 1,276 patients discharged after recovery, putting the total number of recoveries at 7,76,878.