Open the schools

India continues to record over 2,80,000 cases every day, which on its own is an uncomfortable statistic. These are not too far from that observed during the second wave and it is understandable why State administrators continue to impose lockdowns. However, numbers are meaningless without context and the data from States show that what was most feared about Omicron — an upsurge of hospitalisations and indiscriminate mortality — has not come to pass. The States that are in the throes of the wave now report, on average, that more than 95% of their available beds are unoccupied. By no means does this suggest that an Omicron infection is mild or that those vaccinated can be assured of pre-2020 nonchalance. However, the evidence is unequivocal that the odds of requiring hospitalisation are low in the doubly vaccinated and the vaccines, so far, continue to deliver on their promise of staving off severe illness. These observations are no doubt accounted for by various State governments which are now easing restrictions and allowing business establishments and public places to open up.

However, schools continue to be shut in most places and administrators are reluctant to open them because most children are unvaccinated. Serology surveys by the ICMR and independent experts have found that greater than 70% of children displayed COVID-19 antibodies — which is no different from adults. Other lines of research also establish that while children are likely to contract the infection and be carriers, they are less likely to fall severely ill. Placing this in context with the disruption that has taken place in schools, the years of quality teaching time that have been lost and, the entrenching of inequality among well-off children and those who are dependent on schools not only for learning but also a nutritious meal, it is clear that schools, in good conscience, cannot be allowed to remain shut. The COVID-19 pandemic has not ended but societies are better prepared and aware of the reasonable measures that can be undertaken to save lives. Lockdowns are effective as a temporary measure and give time to stock up, but they come with huge costs and are not sustainable over the longer term. Thus, States should prioritise expanding vaccine coverage, insist on masks when children are in close confines, undertake periodic testing to gauge transmission and monitor hospitalisation trends while fully reopening schools. Experience from other countries such as the U.K. and the U.S. suggests that the reopening of schools hardly impacted transmission trends. India must incorporate these lessons.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 22, 2022 10:04:47 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/open-the-schools/article38335694.ece