Opening Schools Is Easy

Just eliminate COVID-19
5 min readAug 24, 2020


Schools have reopened in Sri Lanka and, as usual, we all get colds. Kids are gross, there’s nothing you can do. My children use my body as a handkerchief. Kids will sneeze directly in your mouth.

We are not depending on these filthy creatures for our security. Instead, we have wholly eliminated COVID-19 to protect them, and each other. That’s it, that’s the secret. Asking how to reopen schools safely is like asking how to live in a burning building.

I don’t know, just put out the fire.

The wrong question

There is a lot of discussion in the west about pointless details. Should kids wear masks? How far apart should they sit? These are not the important questions. It’s like looking at a burning building and asking what wood burns the slowest, and should you build toys out of that. You have to save the house. The house contains everything inside.

For COVID-19, this means an elimination strategy. Not mitigating or flattening the curve, but completely crushing it down to zero, and continuing to crush breakouts as they emerge. Professor Devi Sridhar has been on about this for ages and she quotes Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand for a definition:

‘Elimination doesn’t mean zero cases, it means zero tolerance for cases. It means when a case emerges, and it will, we test, we contact trace, we isolate, and we do that every single time with the ambition that when we see COVID-19, we eliminate it.” (NZ)

Sridhar defines elimination as being within national borders, ie a population that you can seal. And indeed, many countries have pursued this strategy successfully. China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Trinidad & Tobago, etc. Places like South Korea are doggedly trying, with the same goal in mind. Elimination.

It works.

With elimination you don’t need separate tactics for schools, sports and business — you have one strategy executed at multiple levels. You don’t need a kids room capable of withstanding an inferno, you just have no fire and extinguishers all over the place in case. This is traditional fire safety by the way. No one is like, hot air rises, so stand on your head.



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at