At many of Tamil Nadu's educational institutes, which reopened partially or fully last week after months, the government's Covid protocol seems to be only loosely observed. Merely days since physical classes began to be held again, some students and teachers have already tested positive for the disease.
The state government allowed schools (Classes 9 to 12), colleges, and polytechnic institutes, shut since March this year, to reopen from September 1. While 95 per cent of the teachers and staff across the state have been inoculated, concerns remain about students.
To minimise the spread of infection, a standard operating procedure (SOP) has been issued for the holding of physical classes.
These include each offline session being held with only 50 per cent students at any point, observing social distancing in the classroom, and a bar on forcing children to attend school in person. College hostels may be opened only if needed. Crowding must be avoided in their dining halls, too.
The institutions, however, may not be taking the SOP seriously.
For instance, at The New College, Chennai, students could be seen sitting close to each other in groups during lunch.
"Yes, we should follow physical distancing. I sit with them because all are my friends," one student told NDTV.
Inside the kitchen, a cook preparing dough was not wearing a mask.
Dr A Hyder Ali, a senior faculty at The New College and Deputy Warden of the institute's hostel, referred to these instances as exceptions: "It is like this only today. Otherwise, only two students are allowed on a desk for breakfast or lunch."
Referring to the hostel, he said, "Because of Covid, we allow only two students in each room. Earlier, we had four or five."
At Everwin Vidhyashram Senior Secondary School in north Chennai, two students are seated in each row, with less than the government-prescribed six feet between them.
Though the school has staggered interval timings and has made floor markings to avoid crowding, classrooms flout the SOP.
"We have only 20 students in a class. According to that, the number of students in a bench is decided. We have no shift system but a rotation. Three days a week for each of the two batches," said Dr B Purushothaman, Founder and Senior Principal of the school.
In central Tamil Nadu, some students and teachers have tested Covid-positive less than a week after reopening. Authorities, however, don't see any reason to panic.
"We are doing everything required according to the protocol," state Health Minister Ma Subramanian said today.
Amid concerns, many colleges are holding camps to inoculate their adult students -- vaccination is mandatory for them -- who may have missed their shots.
"They have to produce their vaccination certificates on entering the campus," said The New College Principal Dr Basheer Ahamed.