THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Stringent restrictions on protecting the ‘bio-bubble system’ on the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) campus at Valiyamala here have triggered unrest among students. Several students, who had been living in house arrest like condition in hostels for the past several months, are on the brink of psychological breakdown. With unrest growing among students, the authorities announced minor relaxations in Covid protocol from Monday, but, many students feel these are a mere eyewash.
“My ward has been staying in the hostel for over six months now. They don’t allow students to go out of the campus even during weekends. Guardians are allowed to meet students for 20 minutes during weekends, but they have to stay at the gate under the watchful eyes of CISF personnel. Once the time is up, you will be asked to leave,” said the guardian of a research scholar on condition of anonymity.
Though fully vaccinated certificate has been accepted by government as equivalent to Covid negative certificate for all practical purposes, IIST authorities insist on RT-PCR negative certificate on arrival and a retest after seven days of quarantine in the event of a student going out of campus for any emergency requirement.
This clause was amended by the latest circular issued on Sunday, which said fully vaccinated students need RT-PCR test and quarantine only if they attend any functions like marriages where there is a high chance of them mingling with public. Those who have received only a single dose of vaccine are required to remain in quarantine if they go out.
“In all other places, the concept of bio bubble is in such a way that each inmate on a campus lives there. Here, only students need to remain in hostels. Teachers and office staff regularly commute to and from their houses. We mingle with one another too. Many students from distant places and other states are not able to see their dear ones for a long time as SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) committee has implemented strict restrictions on movement outside the campus. Why are they troubling us alone?” asked a research scholar on condition of anonymity.
Currently, around 120 PhD and PG (M Tech) students reside on the campus. The undergraduate students are yet to return to campus as they are still following online classes. The institute mandates research scholars to stay in hostels even if they live near the campus. S Somanath, VSSC director and director in-charge of IIST, told TNIE that the institute decided to grant exemptions from this week, based on the decision taken at the last meeting of SOP internal committee.
“Students can go to the city in vehicles arranged by the institute during weekends. They can go home every month and can stay there for a maximum three days. If they want to stay longer, they should take a RT-PCR test,” he said. Reacting to criticism, Somanath said that IIST is not an exemption and many institutes are following the bio bubble system.
“We have decided to give relaxations after consulting other institutes. The institute was also keen on students mingling with staff who travel daily to the institute,” Somanath said. The revised norms suggest that students, who are hostelites, can use the lab for three days, while those travelling from outside can use lab the next three days.