Lessons from IIT-M Covid cluster

Tamil Nadu has the fourth highest Covid-19 caseload in the country, after Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra, and the third highest death toll.

Published: 23rd December 2020 07:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd December 2020 07:40 AM   |  A+A-

IIT Madras canteen

Scene at IIT M canteen where some of the students are seen without masks. It is suspected that overcrowding at Himalayan mess was the reason for the Covid cluster. (Photo | Special Arrangement)

Tamil Nadu has the fourth highest Covid-19 caseload in the country, after Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra, and the third highest death toll. Yet, in the past two months, the number of fresh cases reported in the state have been on the decline. On Tuesday, for instance, the test positivity for the day was just 1.6%.

An aggressive testing strategy that relied exclusively on the gold standard of RT-PCR tests and daily fever camps in all cities can be credited for bringing the virus somewhat under control.  Yet, how easily such gains in a battle against a wily virus can be lost was seen from the emergence of a cluster of nearly 200 cases at the premier IIT-Madras campus last week.

While the state health department and city corporation swiftly stepped in and started testing all personnel on campus and in other colleges as well, a closer look at the cluster revealed that key messages were yet to be imbibed by many. A crowded indoor mess frequented by the students is believed to be the cause for the spread. For months now, experts have pointed out that poorly ventilated indoor spaces are where the virus is likely to spread most easily.

Further, a canteen increases the risk as people may need to remove their masks. Students have blamed the IIT management for lowering its guard after the initial months of the pandemic. However, the same can be said of the state and the general public. While the government has invested heavily in proactive testing and its hospitals save lives on a daily basis, contact tracing and quarantining of potential patients have slowed down.

Meanwhile, the state has continued to open up more spaces for public use, including colleges and public transport. Unfortunately this has not been accompanied by sufficient behaviour modification by the public, which may see the opening as a sign of less risk. 

With news of a newer strain of the virus spreading in the UK, it is imperative that the state refocuses on the basics—test, trace, isolate—while more aggressively educating the public on how the virus spreads and how to stay safe. With vaccines arriving soon, an end to the pandemic might be in sight. But with an eye on the horizon, governments and people must not lose sight of the dangers present today. 


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