Skip to main content

Not risky? How schools closure flattened children’s future, not Covid curve

By Bhaskaran Raman*
“Flatten the curve” so that hospitals are not overwhelmed, was the clarion call in March 2020, based on which all schools in India were shut. Does school closure flatten the Covid curve? There was weak evidence in Mar 2020, and schools were shut along with everything else in an atmosphere of panic. Eighteen months later there is now plenty of evidence that school closure does indeed flatten, not the Covid curve, but children’s futures.
Tens of thousands of schools have been open in over 170 countries, many even at the peak of the Covid curve. But reports of Covid outbreaks in schools are few and far between. Let us look rationally at a few such recent reports from India as well as abroad, to gauge the level of concern warranted.
The state of Punjab opened schools from August 2. It was reported that “infection” was high among children in Punjab following school reopening. Tamil Nadu opened schools for classes 9-12 on September 1. By mid-September, a total of 117 paediatric cases were reported in that State. Toward the end of August, a report of a Covid outbreak in California, USA, made waves in the media.

Does school closure help reduce hospitalization?

To a layperson, such reports paint a picture that schools are dangerous places, hospitals may crumble if schools are opened. Is this picture accurate, or is it a gross exaggeration? It is important to note that none of the media reports say anything about the severity of the “cases”. Have there been any severe cases? Any hospitalizations?
None report on this. Taking “no news” as “good news”, perhaps we can conclude that there have been no severe cases or hospitalizations. Indeed the original CDC report of the California outbreak says “No persons infected in this outbreak were hospitalized”.
Let us pause for a moment and let that sink in.
Across the thousands of schools opened so far, very few reports of outbreaks, and even there, no reported hospitalization!
In other words, there was no curve to flatten through school closure.
Dozens of methodical studies have indeed shown that schools do not increase Covid hospitalization or even Covid spread. As early as June 2020, a comparison of Sweden (schools open) vs Finland (schools closed) showed no statistical difference in paediatric cases, and no increased risk to teachers compared to other professions. The US CDC’s own report in Jan 2021 cites a study which found “no increase in Covid-19 hospitalization rates associated with in-person education”.

Case counting serves no useful purpose

Thus even the rare reports of supposed Covid spread in schools report only “cases”. Does this serve any purpose? What exactly does an “infection” or a “case” mean in a child? It would do good to remind ourselves what the abbreviation SARS-Cov-2 stands for. The first “S” stands for “severe” and the “A” stands for “acute”. “Cases”, or PCR positive results, can happen among children too. But the risk of severe outcomes is very rare.
All schools must open now; continued closure is morally and scientifically unjustifiable
The human body has hundreds of different kinds of viruses: if we test for them, we will find them, but there is no clinical relevance since the body is able to fight off the bad ones. For most children, SARS-Cov-2 is just one other such virus with severe outcomes being very rare.
Therefore counting “cases”, especially in children, serves only the negative purpose of increasing anxiety.

The zeal for zero-risk

Paediatric “case” reporting arises from a misplaced zeal for zero-risk and zero-Covid, a scientific impossibility. A clear fact which has been lost amidst muddled thinking in the last 18 months is the age-differential risk of Covid. While Covid is deadly for old/comorbid people, it is literally a 1000 times less risk for children.
Despite this, surely every parent would say “my child should not face any risk, however small”. This is natural and emotional, but irrational on three counts.
  • First, zero risk is an impossibility. A recent UK study concluded that children under 10 are 20 times more likely to die of accidental injury, compared to Covid-19. Surely, we wouldn’t shut schools or kids’ play to avoid accidents.
  • Second, staying at home away from schools has not protected children from exposure to Covid-19. A recent sero-survey conducted by PGIMER showed that 71% of children were already exposed and had antibodies. What has protected these children from any severe outcome is their own natural immune system (for which we should be thankful), not school closure.
  • Third, school closure increases health risk for children: causing great psychological harm, even suicides, alongside increasing manifold other severe problems like child labour, child marriage, malnutrition, etc.
Recently it was reported that the Supreme Court had said that it would hold the State of Kerala accountable “if even one case is reported” during conduct of class-11 exams. Is this level of containment humanly possible? That too against a respiratory virus spreading through airborne aerosols? When the harshest of military enforced lockdowns have not contained the virus in much more sparsely populated countries like Australia? Instead of seeking the impossible, should we not be celebrating the fact that the virus has spared children and young people from severe outcomes?

Absurdities abound

So why did we shut schools? The saying goes: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. We shut schools to keep children safe. Or to keep parents safe. Or to keep grandparents safe. Or to keep society safe from the Covid curve. All well intentioned perhaps, but evidence is mounting that none of these are remotely true.
Were children not exposed to Covid-19? No, they were exposed (but safe) despite school closure. Were parents or grandparents safe due to school closure? We have the recent tall second wave to answer that.
Self-evident contradictions that any lay person can see are also mounting: how can schools be viewed as super-spreaders when everything else including malls, theaters, markets, banks, post-offices, public buses, shared auto-rickshaws, etc are open? When currently the Covid curve is on a downward trend, what is there to flatten via school closure anyway, except childrens’ futures?

Now means now

If truth and scientific evidence matter, if our children's futures matter, all schools in India must open. We must go back in time 18 months to open them. Since we don’t have a time machine, we must open all schools now. Possible third wave or fourth wave have no role in this.
Covid-19 vaccines for kids are unnecessary and have no role in this. It is appalling that several States have still not opened primary schools. Our children should be made to wait no longer.
---
 *Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay. Views are personal.

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.