Dr Prabhakar Bhimalapuram is the chairperson of the Campus Health and Medical Committee set up by the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, to oversee the efficient running of health clinics on campus. Recently, the committee undertook the responsibility of fighting against Covid to safeguard students on campus. It took the unusual measure of getting a barber on the campus to prevent the students from going out. The Observer interviewed him to get an insight into the Covid fight. Excerpts from an interview with Dhruv Raghav:
What was the catalyst for the decision to provide a barber?
Everybody is sacrificing something or other because of the pandemic. In this case, the students have had to sacrifice their favourite barber to get the haircut of their choice or the freedom of mobility. The previous batches have moved around freely, to the campus gate and beyond, but we had to close everything down because of the pandemic. So we decided that the inconvenience the students are facing can be avoided by getting everything inside the campus. The authorities came up with the idea of not just providing a barber to the students, but also to maintain their hygiene and other necessities. So we got a barber …. We have also brought in other facilities so the students do not go out and contract the virus. We started allowing online delivery services, like Grofers, BigBasket and Amazon. We told them that the barber won’t give them the haircut they want…. This leaves no reason for them to wander outside. Things that were not seen on the campus can be seen now. That was the point.
Are there any students on campus?
Yes, a few students are on campus. The semester started in January and ended in the last week of April. We finished grading them and completed other formalities by the end of the semester. So, after the semester got over, we asked our students who do not have any academic work to go home. We had only allowed 330-350 students to join us for the semester. Now there are about 100 students who have stayed back. During the pandemic, we reduced the number of students as we thought 300-350 would be the number of students we will be able to… take care of. If a student did not have any on-campus research commitments or other academic work, he was asked to leave.
How many have tested positive?
From the start of the semester, 25 hostel residents have tested positive. This was spread across the semester. Fortunately, we did not have a Covid cluster like many other institutes had, so we did not shut down.
What is the procedure if a student tests positive?
We have three blocks of buildings that are dedicated to quarantine zones. Students who tested positive were asked to move to these buildings to isolate themselves. We have been sending essentials, like food, to them there.
Why have some students stayed back on the campus?
A few of them had an unfortunate incident which is why they couldn’t go back. Otherwise, the students who have stayed back are mainly research students who have decided they will stay back to complete their research work which can’t be done from home. Things related to hardware and other facilities are not accessible from their homes. The students who have decided to stay back have to be endorsed by the faculty adviser that they need to be on the campus. The strength of IIITH is 1,900. We have about 1,100 under-graduate students, 350 post-graduate students and 450 PhD students.
Have the students been compliant with the new rules?
Mostly the students have been very cooperative. They understand the situation. Hence, they have been following all protocols. This has come at the cost of freedom.