Commonsense, not panic, should guide our response to Omicron virus

The government’s well-meaning but somewhat panicky response to the threat of the Omicron virus entering India reminds me of a story from 1962 when China attacked us.  Fearing that the Chinese Air Force would bomb Delhi’s civilian areas, the PWD came and dug air raid trenches all over the place. These were 10 feet deep, 4 feet wide and Z-shaped. Each arm of the Z was 10 feet.  If and when the air raid siren went off, we were all supposed to go into these trenches to avoid being hit. That didn’t happen but children started going there to play anyway, to th.....
The government’s well-meaning but somewhat panicky response to the threat of the Omicron virus entering India reminds me of a story from 1962 when China attacked us. 

Fearing that the Chinese Air Force would bomb Delhi’s civilian areas, the PWD came and dug air raid trenches all over the place. These were 10 feet deep, 4 feet wide and Z-shaped. Each arm of the Z was 10 feet. 

If and when the air raid siren went off, we were all supposed to go into these trenches to avoid being hit. That didn’t happen but children started going there to play anyway, to the increasing annoyance of their parents. 

In the event, much to the disappointment of all children, no bombs fell. The war was over in 22 days and the trenches became
The Omicron variant of the Corona virus has caused a similar panic amongst many governments. The Indian government is one of them because it doesn’t want a repeat of the disasters of either 2020 (lockdown) or 2021 (exponential increase in fatal infections). 

So, since the virus is to be found only in other countries, it has put in place measures to ensure, to the extent possible, that people arriving in India are screened properly for this variant. This is sensible.  just a nuisance because they destroyed the playgrounds as effectively as any bomb would have. By January 1963, they had also become lavatories in some places. 

However, whether or not this screening can be improved upon remains to be seen. Most likely it can. 

For example, there is no need to make people wait for 6-8 hours inside airports--where the risk of infection is high as it is--while the test results become available. 

It must be mentioned here that the rapid test is priced at above Rs 3000 but the RTPCR is at Rs 500. The wait for the results for the former is two hours only. Most people seem to be opting for the cheaper alternative. 

No other country does this. Indeed India also didn’t used to do this because home quarantine of seven days is generally quite adequate. But panic can lead to strange policies. 

The government has also reportedly said that inspectors will visit the homes of people who have entered India after December 1 to see if the quarantine rules are being observed “effectively”. One can only guess at the number of inspectors required. Even for random inspections, this number would be huge. If this happens to be true, the catchword is “effectively” because there is always the associated risk of bribes being demanded.

Effectiveness, in the final analysis, would lie in the eyes of the inspectors, which is always a matter of discretion. 

There are also two other related questions, unanswerable at this point. The first is how infectious is the Omicron variant? The second is: even if it’s very infectious, how bad is it? 

The answer to the first is partially known. It’s very infectious. That’s what the South African government says. It’s South Africa that discovered the variant but whiz has had no cases so far. 

The answer to the second isn’t as easy. No one knows how damaging it is. So no one is taking any chances. 

On past record that seems a fair response. If you can detect and stop it before it enters the country, that’s fine.

But the process by which this is done is also important. It needs to be fair, which means charge less for the rapid test and simple, which means don’t hold up people who can’t afford the rapid test. 

In other words don’t increase the chances of their being infected. It’s commonsense.


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