Lucknow: Taking cognizance of the recent deaths of 34 professors due to COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in merely three weeks, vice-chancellor Tariq Mansoor on Sunday wrote to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), urging it to study if a particular variant of the coronavirus was circulating around the campus.
At least 16 serving and 18 retired teachers, besides other staff of the AMU have died due to COVID-19 and COVID-19-like symptoms in the past 18 days, as per reports. However, NewsClick could not independently verify the number.
In a letter to the director general of ICMR, Mansoor said 16 serving and 18 retired teachers, besides other employees of the university, had succumbed to the infection in the past 18 days.
There is a possibility that “a particular variant may be circulating in areas around the AMU campus and surrounding localities, which has led to these deaths”, he said, stressing the need for a study to control the spread of the virus.
Mansoor said the microbiology laboratory at Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College (JNMCH), Aligarh, has been sending samples to the Institute of Genomics and Integrated Biology laboratory, New Delhi, for genome sequencing.
Mohammad Shameem, professor at the department of TB and Chest Diseases, Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, who continues to treat patients after himself testing positive, said: "More teachers and staff at Delhi University have died but the media is only highlighting the deaths in AMU. No doubt, the workload on existing doctors engaged in COVID duty has increased during March and medical college was battling oxygen shortage and was dependent on its three plants. Scores of medical staff, doctors and paramedical staff tested COVID-19 positive but everything was under control after a few weeks.”
He said “the professors could have died not only because of COVID but due to other complications, including hypertension, kidney disease, heart issues, but unfortunately, every death is being considered as coronavirus," adding that this time the “virulence and the virus are different compared with last year. Also people are rushing to hospital after situation often gets out of hand.”
When questioned about the number of deaths, Shameem said tonly 16 professors and retired teachers had succumbed to corona and others died due to other causes. "Non-COVID deaths are also being included in this list. A few professors were also getting treatment in Delhi and died there," he added.
Meanwhile, the fatalities have led to panic among the teaching community which is fearful of the possibility of a more virulent strain of the virus causing havoc at AMU.
Another professor, on the condition of anonymity, told NewsClick: "We have lost a number of colleagues and non- teaching staff during the past few days. It is indeed depressing. Not everyone died in the medical college, as is being circulated on social media or claimed by media outlets. Some staff members died at home while some were not even in Aligarh. It would be wrong to put the blame on the administration or the medical college. ...The reality is that everyone received basic line of treatment but unfortunately died," he told NewsClick, adding that the variant and virus seems different this time and ICMR needs to study it.
The first death, of a professor of the Computer Science Department and former proctor and dean student welfare, Professor Jamshed Ali Siddiqui, was recorded on April 20.
Earlier, Medical Department Chairman Professor Shadab Ahmed Khan (58), doctor and head of Medicine Department at JNMCH, and Computer Department Professor Rafiqul Zaman Khan (55) had also succumbed to COVID-19.
Umar Farooq, brother of Vice-Chancellor Mansoor also died of COVID-19. Farooq was a former member of the University Court and a member of the Mohammedan Educational Conference.
“The university is deeply concerned with the death of its faculty members, including retired teachers and other employees. Therefore, the vice-chancellor has written a letter to ICMR to research new samples of the virus from the campus and conduct viral genome sequencing to ascertain if it is a new variant,” Omar Peerzada, Public Relations Officer of AMU told NewsClick.
GRIM SITUATION IN JNMCH
The alarming surge in the number of fresh COVID-19 cases at JNMCH, a prestigious medical college in Aligarh, has pushed the city’s medical infrastructure close to a virtual collapse.
Kashif, president of the Resident Doctors Association (RDA) at the hospital, said there was panic as the number of cases was increasing every day and the mortality rate was higher compared with last year.
“The mortality rate is higher everywhere, not only in Aligarh. People are dying on a large scale due to COVID across India,” Kashif said, while admitting that there was acute shortage of beds and low flow of oxygen frequently, creating problems for the administration.
Another faculty member said several professors, along with retired professors and non-teaching staff, of AMU, who had been admitted in JNMC, had succumbed to COVID-19, and a score of teachers were still undergoing treatment.