Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) stated that 69 students have tested positive for coronavirus since returning to the campus in Udupi district of Karnataka last month. Students studying in colleges under MAHE were given the option of returning to the campus in November. According to officials at the institute, around 7,000 students returned to the campus at that time. This is around 38% of the total number of students in Manipal.
Around 3,050 students took an RT-PCR test on arrival in Manipal, while others carried a negative RT-PCR test report with them. In the tests conducted on arrival, 52 students tested positive and were isolated. This included 13 students from Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT), the engineering institute in Manipal.
"We quarantined those who took the test in Manipal until their results were back. The students who tested positive were shifted to a COVID-Care Centre in the campus. It is a separate building, like a hostel, but away from the other hostel buildings. We have physicians present there and we are in compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines issued by the government," Dr Suma Nair, Professor and Head of Department of Community Medicine in MAHE, told TNM.
Apart from the tests conducted on arrival, 17 more students tested positive for the virus, taking the total number of COVID-19 cases among students up to 69. Out of this, two students are from Manipal Institute of Technology, officials in MAHE confirmed. After one student tested positive for the virus, his roommate also tested positive shortly after.
"We are being vigilant and in case we find an increasing frequency in the positive cases, we have to take a decision. We have the plans in place but the positivity rate is very low (around 0.8%) at the moment," Dr Suma Nair added.
The developments in MAHE are also being monitored by the Udupi district administration, which held a meeting with officials from MAHE on this issue on Wednesday. "In May, there was a period when Udupi was handling close to 1,000 cases. We have the infrastructure in place to handle this situation and we are in contact with the institute about this," Additional Deputy Commissioner Sadashiva Prabhu said. Udupi district reported 12 COVID-19 cases on Thursday taking the number of active cases in the district to 126.
The number of COVID-19 cases at the institute is the focus of a campaign by a section of students and parents, particularly from MIT, urging MAHE to hold online exams for its students. A flurry of messages on social media—on Instagram and WhatsApp-- in the past week alleged that the institute and the district administration were not reporting COVID-19 cases among students. The students urged officials to conduct another round of testing among students before the semester examinations scheduled this month.
However, the institute rejected the assertions and stated that a task force is in place, through which students can reach out to the staff members to address their concerns. The concern of the section of students was particularly about the institute's reluctance to add an option of online exams during the pandemic.
Even though the current set of options allow students to skip the offline examinations scheduled this month and clear it at a later stage, some students say that this would put them in a disadvantageous situation. A written request was also sent by Bengaluru South MP and the National President of BJP Yuva Morcha President Tejasvi Surya regarding the issue.