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Monday, September 21, 2020

Breach of trust by Tories hampering efforts to combat Covid-19

Surprise, surprise, the Guardian reports on the view of one technology expert that Dominic Cummings’ lockdown travels and the exams fiasco could have contributed to dooming the government’s Covid contact-tracing app before it even launches.

The app, which is due to launch in England and Wales on Thursday 24 September, will use the bluetooth signal in mobile phones to track close and sustained contact between users and then warn those who may have been exposed to an infectious person that they should self-isolate.

But Imogen Parker, the head of policy at the tech thinktank Ada Lovelace Institute, has cast doubts over whether enough people will install the app to make it effective:

“In March, it was suggested that we would need 80% of smartphone users to install the app for it to reduce infections. But internationally, the best case scenario we’ve seen has been about 40% uptake, and that’s in small countries like Iceland and Singapore. Examples from larger countries like Germany and Ireland suggest we’re looking more like 18-30% a few weeks after launch,” she said.

“In the UK, uptake is going to be related to trust in government. While we were doing some public work on trust over May, you had the Barnard Castle incident; after that you had the A-level algorithm. But the flip side is that the NHS brand itself is incredibly trusted.”

Parker also raised alarm at the prospect of large numbers of people being advised to self-isolate based on “false positive” results. “The best data I’ve seen suggests 45% false positives and 33% false negatives,” she said, “but phone proximity isn’t everything. The growing body of evidence about things like the substantially limited risk outside versus inside really matters. We need to make sure the app can identify risk, not just identify phones.”

The fact is that Government ministers treating the pandemic as one rule for them, one rule for the rest of us, their over-reliance on barely-understood ICT solutions, and their perceived lack of accountability have all fuelled the recent upsurge in infection. 

People no longer trust what the UK Government says, and as a result they are taking greater risks. And yet the lack of self-awareness by Johnson's cabal is shocking. Isn't it time for a little humility and mea culpa on their part?

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