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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "David Davis"

Can the UK really follow South Korea? Five big issues as the Isle of Wight experiences contact tracing

On Monday, the UK moved into completely unchartered territory.

The Government rolled out its track-and-trace smartphone app in the Isle of Wight, which it hopes can provide a good testing ground for extending the technology – and preventing future outbreaks of Covid-19.

This experiment has been inspired by South Korea’s approach.

Throughout the Coronavirus crisis, its leaders have been hailed for their innovative and proactive thinking, resulting in the country reporting no locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 last week.

Given its proximity to China, the source of the outbreak, that is an incredible feat.

Key to South Korea’s success has been what we now know as “contact tracing”, which the country achieved through a two-pronged approach.

It set up free drive-through and walk-in centres, where tests could be conducted in 10 minutes and results sent out within 24 hours – and used GPS to monitor who’s infected, and who they’ve met.

The Korea Centre for Disease Control, a government organisation, is in charge of the process.

If one citizen becomes infected, an alert of their movements is sent (along with the timings) to a network of people they’ve been in close proximity to. That way they can get tested and self-isolate, too.

Though the South Korean approach undoubtedly works, it goes almost without saying that the UK is a completely different country. And though many Britons are optimistic about using its strategy, it’s worth understanding some of the main challenges we face as we roll out the contact tracing.

  • South Korea launched its application before Covid-19 hit

The first major consideration – in trying to work out how effective contact tracing will be – is that the UK is not at the same starting point as South Korea in rolling out the technology.

South Korea began developing its testing programme before its first confirmed case of Covid-19 – having prepared heavily since the MERS outbreak of 20105. 

This meant that, by early February, South Korea’s first test was approved. 

Its proactive method is arguably why it has only seen 900 cases during its peak.

To put that in context, the UK had 3,985 lab-confirmed cases yesterday – several days after Boris Johnson announced we had gone past the peak.

Matt Hancock has said widespread contact tracing will take place by the middle of this month.

The logic for this date apparently comes from an artificial intelligence study – by the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

It has predicted patterns of when the pandemic will end in many countries. And estimates May 9 for the UK. 

It’s impossible to tell exactly what the number of cases will be then.

But the difference between this figure, and South Korea’s when it started its programme, may influence the efficacy of contact testing.

  • We Brits may have different attitudes to privacy

One aspect of contact tracing that has proven controversial is the use of people’s information.

Though South Korea’s approach has been revered, one imagines some of its techniques would not go down too well in the UK.

Health authorities can, for instance, use CCTV footage, credit card transaction data and travel information to monitor people.

And, despite the app having private elements – it only uses the gender and age category of those on the system – there have been criticisms that other users can easily identify who people are through peripheral information. 

One way that this can be gleaned is through detailed logs of people’s movements, such as the businesses and areas they visit. Some of this information will be highly personal – trips to the lavatory, for instance.

It is reported that overnight stays at “love motels” have been recorded.

The UK’s system is much softer in relation to privacy, not least because it doesn’t use GPS, since breaches privacy laws in many democracies.

Like Australia and Singapore, the UK’s contact tracing is operated by Bluetooth. 

This uses anonymous keys – that hide a person’s identity and location, merely alerting others to whether they have crossed paths. 

Even so, what’s angered activists is that the Government will use a centralised database to collect information.

They are concerned that this will give the State too much control over personal data, as well as meaning hackers can attack the system – accessing masses of information.

To make matters more complicated for the Government, there has been something of a split in Europe around this issue, with others opting for a decentralised system of contact tracing (allowing users to manage and see data).

Italy, Switzerland and the US are among those to decentralise contact tracing – opting for Apple and Google apps. 

Germany had also planned to use a similar system to the UK, before opting for a “strongly decentralised approach”.

Defending the UK’s decision, Dr Ian Levy, Technical Director of the National Cyber Security Centre, has said that the “NHS team have worked hard to properly protect privacy and security”, pointing out that the app stores no personal information and “doesn’t collect your location”.

He also adds that “any delay in isolating people who are showing symptoms has a real effect on the spread of the virus” – so it makes sense for the NHS to take control of the process (via centralisation).

Other proponents of centralisation may argue it has an epidemiological rationale, allowing the NHS to trace the Coronavirus is spreading across the UK.

Even so, the list of opposing arguments to centralisation is growing (more are outlined here in Guido Fawkes)…

…And we publish a look at the issues in the round today by Benjamin Barnard of Policy Exchange.

  • There are potential technical problems with the app

Another potential problem for the Government comes from a technological perspective – its contact tracing app might stop tracking in some contexts.

Similar Bluetooth apps in other countries, like Australia, have reported that the only way to make it work is for users to keep it active and on-screen – not possible when they are using other functions on their phone.

Writing for The Register, Kieran McCarthy says that “the app will not, as it stands, work all the time on iOS nor Android since version 8. The operating systems won’t allow the tracing application to broadcast its ID via Bluetooth to supporting devices when it’s running in the background and not in active use”, adding that “Apple and Google have refused to allow the tracing app to send out IDs in the background.”

The NHS has said it’s able to make the technology function “sufficiently well”, and the Isle of Wight experiment may expose problems – and give the Government time to correct these.

  • We’re not as connected as a nation

To add to these issues, the UK is not as technologically sophisticated as South Korea (though the latter is really in a league of its own).

Britain has internet connectivity issues – particularly in remote parts of the country – whereas South Korea has the fastest broadband in the world, and already has 6G technology in its sights (as opposed to the UK, more recently contemplating 5G). 

It has been called the “most connected country” in the world, and so it is not surprising that implementing contact tracing has been successful there.

Academics have advised the NHS that 80 per cent of smartphone users – 60 per cent of the population – need to use the app in order for it to work. 

Currently, around 67 per cent of the population have downloaded Whatsapp – to give that figure some context.

(The over 70s, who are less likely to use smartphones, do not need to use the app, as they will be shielding.)

Network issues could plague the UK as it extends contact tracing – but optimists will see the Isle of Wight trial as an opportunity to expand our technological capacities.

  • British compliance

One unknown variable in implementing South Korean technology here is whether the British people will comply as much with it.

Ministers are currently planning a nationwide campaign, reportedly to tell members of the public “that it is their duty to download the app”. 

It remains to be seen – from the Government’s trial in the Isle of Wight – how likely people are to do this.

Data from Singapore, where 20 per cent of the population downloaded its contact tracing app, suggests it can be hard to encourage uptake.

This is part of the reason why the Government has enrolled 18,000 manual contact tracers – to help them roll out the programme.

In due course Britain may need more of tracers, and David Davis, writing on this site, has gone so far as to suggest we need a volunteer army to increase compliance.

(Although to date we have been an extremely compliant nation – in accepting lockdown and social distancing rules.)

And given the speed with which it has sometimes moved – setting up the Nightingale hospitals and building a testing industry from scratch – the Government may be able to adapt the scheme speedily if necessary.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Iain Dale: Something has changed this week. Since May announced talks with Corbyn. I can smell it.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Listening to Today earlier this week, I thought I must be living in a parallel universe.

First up was Ken Clarke, blithely wittering on about the Customs Unions without seemingly understanding how it works. Perhaps, as he admitted with the Maastricht Treaty, he hasn’t actually probed the damned thing. When Nick Robinson explained that if we were outside the EU, but inside the Customs Union, Lithuania would have more influence over UK trade policy than we would, he brushed it away saying that our views “would be taken into account”. Well that’s alright then.

This is what I do not understand. Why is it that politicians of all parties are willing to cede this sort of control to a body which they would have no influence over? Not just that – but, in theory, the EU could do trade deals which were inimical to British interests, and there is nothing we could do about it.

It’s all very well for Geoffrey Cox to go on TV, and witter on about how it wouldn’t be all that bad, and people should really get a sense of perspective. He was then followed by putative leadership contender, Matt Hancock, who made it clear that he, too, doesn’t see membership of the Customs Union as a real problem. He wasn’t exactly categoric in ruling out a second referendum, either. His bid to succeed Theresa May has already got stuck in the EU quicksand.

– – – – – – – – – –

On Tuesday, there were two Cabinet meetings, which lasted more than seven hours between them. And the great conclusion these massive brains came up with? To hold cross party talks with Jeremy Corbyn.

From what we now know, less than half the cabinet supported the idea, with Gavin Williamson telling the Prime Minister the idea was “ridiculous”. At least one of them had the bollocks to say it. The rest of them did their usual supine thing and sat on their hands.

It’s as clear as night follows day that if these talks amount to anything, membership of the Customs Union will be the result. The other consequence is that the Prime Minister has pushed some MPs who support her on last week’s third “meaningful vote” back in the other direction. Way to go.

Maybe it doesn’t matter so much to her if she can win by securing Labour votes. For a woman whose primary loyalty was supposed to be to the Conservative Party, it is a shameful road to go down. It is already riven by split after split, but this move opened up a chasm. She will never recover from it, and doesn’t deserve to.

– – – – – – – – – –

Why are the likes of Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Penny Mordaunt and several others still in the Cabinet? You wonder what would have to happen for them to resign? They can argue until they are blue in the face that they have more influence inside than out. Really? Difficult to spot how that has manifested itself, isn’t it?

If they and at least six others don’t resign en bloc if there is a move by the Prime Minister actually to support membership of the Customs Union, they will become little more than clapping seals. Each of the possible leadership contenders in the Cabinet has masochistically damaged their chances by tacitly going along with the May’s talks with Corbyn.

Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and David Davis have clean hands, while Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Andrea Leadsom and the rest have dipped their hands in blood. As Williamson argued, how on earth can Tories now stick to their policy of painting Corbyn as some sort of dangerous Marxist who is not fit to govern, when the Prime Minister has now effectively invited him to join the government?

– – – – – – – – – –

A day of reckoning will come for the Conservative Party. We can be sure of that. Something has changed in the last week. I can sense it.

People’s patience has run out. The trickle of people who phone my radio show to say they’ve torn up their party membership cards has become a torrent. Tales from the doorstep demonstrate there are large numbers of people who say they’ll never vote Tory again are legion.

Theresa May could be trying to ensure that the same happens to Labour by holding these talks with Corbyn, but as she has never said: “something has changed”. And not for the better.

– – – – – – – – – –

I was very sad to see Nick Boles cross the floor of the Commons on Tuesday. He’s been a friend ever since he invited me to join the board of Policy Exchange at its inception. A man of ideas and very good company, he’s clearly reached the end of his tether both with his local party and with the Prime Minister.

On Wednesday night he went full tonto on Twitter, and laid into Robbie Gibb, the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications. Now that’s a job no one would want at the moment, isn’t it?

Boles accused him of being committed first to a hard Brexit rather than to May. That’s quite an accusation to make. In the days when Gibb used to speak to me, I have to say he was never anything other than professional, and very protective of the Prime Minister’s interests.

Perhaps, given my regular criticism of May over the last few months, he regards me as someone beyond redemption. But if Boles’s accusations were true, you’d have thought that Gibb would have been encouraging me in my criticism of the ever-softer Brexit policy that the Government has pursued. But he hasn’t. It’s a funny old world.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com