THE INDIAN STATE avoids, deliberately, having failure standards—to decide beforehand and make public for any government policy the markers that say it has delivered nothing of the promised end. Take, for example, demonetisation. No one knows what exactly it set out to achieve in quantifiable terms and so no one can say it has failed even though everyone knows it was a disaster. It has been no different with what any state or the Centre has done with Covid so far, and so when they hear the word Omicron, it becomes a licence to once again go on the trial-and-error route. You didn’t map the road you came on, and so any direction you take has no meaning.
Omicron is at present only a handful of cases in a few countries. It will almost certainly spread everywhere, but there is nothing to suggest that it is the predicted doomsday. The risk and reward of any drastic measure would ordinarily have to be weighed in this context. But the slippery slope of panic has already been unleashed. Is there evidence that any of the measures now being adopted to prevent Omicron work? All international passengers from high-risk countries will have institutional quarantine, and the rest must do home quarantine for seven days. And 2 per cent of those coming from non-risk countries will be randomly tested. No one has any clue whether such measures had any effect on the transmission of Covid in either the first or second wave. And why not even have a failure standard now? What is the statistic of the future that will tell them it was completely pointless to have any of these rules?
In fact, the last two years have shown that trying to nip the variant in the bud has not worked anywhere in the world. All that it does is create enormous difficulties for ordinary people submitting meekly to these diktats. Politicians like to think of themselves as strong and decisive and the idea that they are leading a war is fuel to it. But their contribution is mostly in giving an order to the bureaucrat who now races to implement an impossibility—the absolute stoppage of all cases. In any real war, the main focus is on logistics and supplies. In a pandemic, Indian leaders get away with enforcing the behaviour of subjects. The second wave made it evident that the most important thing between life and death was having massive resources of oxygen. But we haven’t heard any state or the Centre say anything on that front in the face of Omicron’s distant unknowable threat. To create supplies of oxygen or hospital beds means real concrete work on the ground to augment infrastructure. It is far easier to order bans and compulsory tests because the government has very little work to do after that. It is the easy cop out. It is the saviour complex operating in a vacuum.