Educational institutions should be reopened for a healthier India

School closures had not come in the way of new and repeat waves of infections
School closures had not come in the way of new and repeat waves of infections


Evidence has mounted that closure costs increasingly exceed covid-safety gains as the virus weakens

It was a day of interesting headlines on The Economic Times online; Sunday had stories on Tamil Nadu and Telangana extending school closures until the end of January. There was a detailed report citing Jaime Saavedra, global education director at the World Bank, who had stated upfront that closing educational institutions should be a last resort. He was not merely voicing an opinion, but citing evidence. There was no evidence that reopening schools had led to a surge in cases and that schools were not safe places. Equally, school closures had not come in the way of new and repeat waves of infections.

It is heartening to note that his view is not an isolated one. In recent weeks, one has read diverse articles making the case for living with the virus rather than running away from it. The tide may be turning in the breathless coverage of the pandemic. Many are tired and sick of the coverage, regardless of whether they were sickened by the virus. It is time for policymakers and media sources around the world to pay heed.

Vivek Ramaswamy and Apoorva Ramaswamy, for example, write, “Policies designed to slow the spread of Omicron may end up creating a supervariant that is more infectious, more virulent and more resistant to vaccines. That would be a man-made disaster." ( They make a distinction between ‘antigenic drift’ and an ‘antigenic shift’. Antigens are molecules detected as foreign by our immune system, which then mounts a response. Simply put, a drift is gradual and a shift is discontinuous. They write that masking and social distancing increase the risk of vaccine-resistant strains from antigenic shifts because these two practices minimize opportunities for the vaccinated and the naturally immune to tailor their immune responses through periodic exposure to incremental ‘drift’ variants.

Echoing the Ramaswamys, Therese Raphael and Sam Fazeli write in a Bloomberg ( opinion piece dated 12 January that the virus has changed its behaviour and so should we. Omicron infections in South Africa peaked about a month after it began. This was not just because of vaccination. Countries that had experienced lethal earlier waves were found to be less susceptible to serious illness with Omicron. Furthermore, the immunity conferred by other coronaviruses that cause the common cold has also helped to bolster defences against Sars-CoV-2.

Consequently, Raphael and Fazeli advocate doing away with self-isolation for healthcare workers and teachers who could work safely wearing masks if they have no symptoms even after testing positive. They also argue for doing away with work-from-home rules and school closures in countries like the UK, where a large proportion of the population now has covid antibodies. India is also one such country.

Finally, they call for a review of vaccination policies after the third dose. There is no point in subjecting an entire population to routine vaccination after a third shot if the variants in circulation are mild. Variant-specific vaccines can be made available to vulnerable groups every six or 12 months, and it should be optional for the rest.

Raphael and Fazeli do not, however, call for an end to all masking. They call for masks in crowded and public spaces. In turn, we can add one more to their list of items to do away with. That is the total covid-case count that many websites in India carry. I am not sure it serves any public good. Losses in sentiment, morale and energy and the rise in anxiety this data can cause are actually a public bad. Reporting the number of daily new infections can also be abandoned. By now, most people know where to look for these numbers if they wish to inflict such information upon themselves.

Thomas Fazi, a journalist, and Toby Green, a professor of History at King’s College, London, provide a rich array of evidence to argue that the ‘Great Barrington Declaration’ formulated by Professors Jay Bhattacharya, Martin Kuldorff and Sunetra Gupta has been vindicated (

The case of Italy is worth noting. It implemented one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world, and yet has one of the world’s highest mortality rates per capita. This is not in spite of lockdowns, but because of them, as Professors Piero Stanig and Gianmarco Daniele explain in their book, Fallimento Lockdown (‘Lockdown failure’).

In short, nearly two years after the onset of the pandemic, there is no case for school closures and blanket lockdowns. The collateral costs and long-term damage to the mental, intellectual and physical health of children far exceed any perceived benefit of such measures. The current and future well-being of India’s young population is too important to be held hostage to tried, tested and failed policies.

More than the covid pandemic, Indian states should worry about the obesity pandemic that the fifth National Family Health Survey revealed recently. The proportions are in line with advanced countries, without advanced-country income and health expenditure levels to match it. Consistent with the dictum that crises must be turned into opportunities, the pandemic can be turned into an opportunity for healthy eating, healthy living and healthy policymaking in more ways than one.

V. Anantha Nageswaran is visiting distinguished professor of economics at Krea University. These are the author’s personal views.

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