Lockdown Should Not Be Eased Until We Have An Effective Track And Trace App

On the 4th July, pubs, hotels and restaurants are expected to open in the hospitality sector, following Boris Johnson’s recent announcement of an easing of lockdown. But is it really safe to reopen such a vast swathe of society when we are only at the tail end of coronavirus deaths and a local outbreak could soon spike into a second wave?

Without an effective Track and Trace App to contact potential coronavirus carriers imminently, in order to lower the risk of the virus spreading, the future of the country and the potential strain on the NHS looks very bleak indeed.

Whilst indications of the test and trace app came as early as mid-March, it is still yet to be a success, even after its trial launch in the Isle of Wight. Questions are also being raised over the suitability of the island as a location to test the app’s ability.

David Mccoy, a professor of global public health at Queen Mary University, has even gone as far as stating “for me, the Isle of Wight was an odd selection, especially during lockdown because it’s a relatively closed community with lots of physical distancing between strangers”.

With the island being fairly protected from the virus, this seems counter intuitive as the point of testing the app is to have a relatively high number of cases to ensure contacts can be traced and the spread of the virus halted. With few carriers in the Isle of Wight, this task seems virtually impossible.

A further setback has also been the technological incompetence of the app

A further setback has also been the technological incompetence of the app. As it stands, the app is incompatible on both Apple and Google devices which shuts out virtually all mobile users, meaning the effect of such an app would be useless.

This has caused the government to make a sharp U-turn on its project and team up with Apple. This was announced by Matt Hancock in a daily press conference last week who said “we’ve agreed to join forces with Google and Apple to bring the best bits of both systems together”.

Whilst it’s good news that the government is finally starting to make head way in this regard, a health minister has since confirmed that the app won’t be ready until at least the winter and it simply “isn’t the priority at the moment”.

In spite of Boris Johnson claiming that a world-leading system for tracing the virus would be in place by the 1st June, we are still a long way from this and, at best, only have a semi functional system in place.

Instead, the picture has now reverted to the app being “the cherry on the cake” of wider tracing efforts, but if these wider tracing efforts are falling apart, the need for an app is far more crucial than ministers are willing to admit.

Even the opposition, who have largely been supportive of Boris’ lockdown easing for the sake of businesses, showed scepticism towards the effectiveness of the Test and Trace App in last week’s PMQ’s.

Whilst grilling the PM at the dispatch box, Keir Starmer said “I do recognise the hard work that has gone into this, but if two thirds of those with Covid-19 are not being reached and asked to provide contact details, there is a big problem, isn’t there?”

Only around 10,000 contacts who had coronavirus had been reached in spite of up to 33,000 potentially having the virus

According to some of the latest data from the Office of National Statistics, which Kier Starmer made reference to, only around 10,000 contacts who had coronavirus had been reached in spite of up to 33,000 potentially having the virus.

This data also included asymptomatic cases which are almost impossible to spot, but nevertheless is an alarming figure.

The government’s lacking approach to tracing – a policy which is meant to form a key part of their coronavirus response – has caused many critics to draw international comparisons over the ability to produce an effective app.

Whilst Johnson was noted in Parliament last week arguing that “no country has a functioning track and trace app”, such a claim has since been disputed by Full Fact, the UK’s independent fact checking charity.

Multiple countries have been able to launch apps, including Germany, France, Australia and Singapore

It points out that multiple countries have been able to launch apps, including Germany, France, Australia and Singapore. Whilst the uptake is still relatively low and difficulty remains in testing the effectiveness of such applications, it’s nevertheless a leap forward from the position the UK is in currently.

It is all well and good reopening the hospitality sector to get the country back on its feet, but if we can’t effectively shut down sectors of society before the virus spirals back out of control, the NHS will be pushed to its limits once again.

Crowds have already been seen in beaches across the country and Leicester already seems on track for a local lockdown. Until we can deal with isolated cases of the virus effectively, services are likely to be severely over stretched, as we saw back in March.

It is not just businesses that are at risk but people’s lives too

We failed to follow the likes of New Zealand in shutting down the country early to save thousands more lives, so we must now learn and proceed cautiously. It is not just businesses that are risk, but people’s lives too.

The government must think about the long-term picture when implementing changes. Until we have the proper infrastructure to avoid a second wave, this hardship could drag on for many more months to come.

Lauren McGaun

Featured image courtesy of Hello I’m Nik via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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