back to article Lockdown endgame? There won't be one until the West figures out its approach to contact-tracing apps

Most health experts agree stopping the coronavirus lockdown requires two things – testing and tracking – and you cannot have one without another. First, you need to know who is infected with COVID-19. Then you need to figure out who they've had contact with so they can be isolated. This isn't inherently novel. It's a tactic …

  1. KCIN

    It won't work.

    There's now plenty of evidence that people who were antibody positive and no longer antibody positive

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      @KCIN

      Would you mind to provide reliable sources for your statement?

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        The bulk of the verified evidence suggests that we don't know the answers at present but there's plenty of evidence released that suggests that we are doing enough research to probably know all of the answers within a year or two.

        Until then it's all just posts on flakebook or twatter (oh darn it, auto-correct is not working).

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          Re auto-correct, lucky you! Mine is trimmed to change "a" into "ae" for the platform ending with ...book.

        2. Overcharged Aussie

          >Until then it's all just posts on flakebook or twatter (oh darn it, auto-correct is not working).

          Seems to be working perfectly fine to my eyes. :-)

    2. Mark192

      KCIN said

      "It won't work"

      You seem confident, yet something similar seems to have worked in Singapore, and that's with reportedly only 20% of their population using it.

      Granted, they seem to have taken decisive action sooner than most other nations. I guess the conclusion is that pussyfooting around doesn't work.

      1. hoola Silver badge

        Population of Singapore 6 million, 700sq KM, population of Greater London 9 million 1500sq KM. Singapore has a population that is used to authority and doing what they are told. What worked in one small area is not necessarily going to work on a large scale.

        Whilst track and trace may have some benefits, relying on an App to support removing travel restrictions is not going to work. The areas involved are too big and the mobility of the population between the main conurbations is to frequent and is uncontrolled.

        It is the crazy amount of travel that has been the primary driver behind the rapid spread of COVID19 worldwide. You reap what you sow and currently the way out looks rough.

        Reliable vaccine - 6 months or more and will probably need regular re-vaccination to be effective

        Lift the lock down to help the economy = increased infection & deaths

        Maintain some sort of lockdown to protect the population = economic problems.

        Money or lives.

        1. P. Lee
          Mushroom

          Lockdown endgame? There won't be one until the West figures out personal responsibility

          FTFY

          There are no reliable flu vaccines. Every year flu mutates and kills hundreds of thousands of people. Covid will be a part of that.

          This is not a "end lockdown to help the economy" this is "end lockdown or your economy will die and then your people will starve."

          We don't worry about things that kill far more than covid.

          We should support those who are vulnerable, but the government lockdown is also destroying lives, both of the current and future generations who will pay the economic price. Government handouts don't magically make stuff, they just transfer resources from you, back to you.

          Interest rates are pretty much at an all-time low. To cover its costs, the government will have to tax more (which doesn't work if people aren't earning) or borrow more which means it will need to offer better (i.e. higher) interest rates. What will that do to people's mortgages? How many people mortgaged to the hilt because rates were low will have their house repossessed? As the banks sell off the repossessions and the house supply increases, with nobody wanting to take on more debt as rates climb, house prices will drop and equity gaps will open up. As the government seems to think printing money is a fine plan, we'll have inflation, higher interest rates and higher taxes. As the economy goes south, politics is going to get nasty too.

          This is what happens when the government takes away the right and responsibility of people to protect themselves. They could have just issued a very strong recommendation that people stay home and enabled remote working as right, at least for those who can. Would more people have died? Quite possibly, but it is not the government's responsibility or within its capability to fix all natural disasters. The government's job is to empower citizens to direct their own lives.

          That's before we get to the technical issues. If I go to the supermarket and pass fifty people, what is the expansion of vectors - exponential? Maybe not quite but not far off. If its two weeks before I get symptoms even just going for essential shopping blows out the number of possible contacts, before we even think of the few (like my parents) who don't have mobile phones. You can run the system, but it isn't going to stop something so highly contagious as covid.

          Even in a worst-case scenario, were covid wipes out all the over-70's and the medically vulnerable, I'm not convinced the destruction will be complete as what we are currently headed for.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Yes and no.

            There are no easy solutions. Something may have to change, even if Lockdown is not the solution, I doubt we can accept that doing nothing is a solution!

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Lockdown endgame? There won't be one until the West figures out personal responsibility

            According to the Beeb this morning ONS reports that the number of deaths in the week up to 10th April was getting on for double what would be expected. This is a whole lot more serious than the average flu season and not one to be as lightly dismissed as you think. To quote Somerville and Ross, there's people dying now that never died before.

          3. veti Silver badge

            Re: Lockdown endgame? There won't be one until the West figures out personal responsibility

            "Personal responsibility" means that the rich get to do what they want and the poor do what they're told, which is to stay poor and die in much larger numbers. You can see this unfolding in the USA right now. Trump/governors can indeed drive people back to work by stopping the flow of money to them, but it's the poorest who will be forced back first, the rich can afford to sit on their butts for a few more weeks.

            This won't be over when lockdown ends. World Wars 1 and 2 saw a huge social levelling. (So for that matter did the black death, in medieval Europe.) If that doesn't happen this time around, then the reckoning from that failure will make the pandemic itself look like a picnic.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Lockdown endgame? There won't be one until the West figures out personal responsibility

            Throw the over 70s under a bus - nice idea. Not so good if next year's viral wave disproportionally affects the under 17s instead. That policy would then be bound to loose you more votes.

        2. fizz

          Well, Singapore may not be the pest poster case for "tracking working"... it's breaking news right now that Singapore is seeing a strong surge of cases and as a consequence deciding to extend its own lockdown.

          (To be fair, most of the surge is happening in the poor immigrant worker population, were likely tracking may be hard or useless )

        3. Cynic_999

          "

          Money or lives.

          "

          It's more like "Lives" or "Money AND lives"

          A deep financial depression also results in many deaths, especially in less developed countries - although displaced by a few years. A great many of the people who died from coronavirus would have died before the end of the year anyway, so the impact is not as great as it may seem. I would not be at all surprised if it ends up that the total number of deaths this year (from all causes) is no higher than the average annual death rate. It may even be lower than average (fewer road accidents and work related deaths).

        4. steviebuk Silver badge

          Also the in the UK we have plenty of fuck whits (chavs) that ignore rules and think they'll never get it. The same idiots that all went to the pub for one last glass before they shut. The same (and I'd call these ones cunts) that were in Spain singing "We all have the virus" ignoring the Spanish police. If I were Spain. I'd have taken a record of all their passports and banned them for 10 years.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Without commenting on your claimed facts, your logic is wonky. The objective it to tell you that you've been close to someone who's infective, not someone who's immune.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh great!

    So our options are to be provided by either the worst Big Brother companies (Apple & Google), a "beneficial" dictatorship (Singapore) or Mossad?

    And let me guess, these special apps will remain live long after the threat of COVID-19, just in case, much in the same way as all the draconian powers associated with the US Patriot Act are still with us, because terrorism.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Oh great!

      I actually think rapid response is one that's very effective. I am living in Vietnam at the moment and watching the response of Europe to COVID seemed almost glacial. By week two Jan (post TET - equiv to Chinese New year), every school was shut (they actually haven't been open since). Land borders to China were getting shut, areas were getting aggressively quarantined at the sign of a case (streets getting closed off, disinfected streets, everyone tested). People started wearing masks far more often (not just when riding in traffic).

      They haven't used a tracing app here, but you're details when you have a phone are on a government DB, and certainly if you are a foreigner you are registered with local police station that you have moved into the area. I have had to fill out a health declaration stating my movements over past few weeks (when I flew in, when I last flew out, where I have been in past 2 weeks). People who live near areas where there has been a case, get a call out of the blue from the gov asking the same sort of questions.

      They have used very aggressive contact tracing methods (phone calls, publicising persons every movement - backed by social media from people here really tracking what they did also - if you are a cse, all your movements will be out within a day or two - people here all seem to know what F0,F1,F2 means in terms of contact, if you flew into the country in the month or so before the borders shut you were put into a quarantine camp or packed back up on the plane. People for the most part seem to be behaving in the lockdown and not to many trying to breach it with mass gatherings (although it has happened - the best was a load of people having a party after leaving quarantine and then getting arrested and shoved back into quarantine again).

      It's possibly doable without a permanent smartphone tracking app, but IMO it takes a few things, attitude of citizens, speed of government response and a bit of luck.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Oh great!

      "And let me guess, these special apps will remain live long after the threat of COVID-19, just in case, much in the same way as all the draconian powers associated with the US Patriot Act are still with us, because terrorism."

      Indeed, this is the real worry. Even if you're naive enough to believe government's claims that they'll totally give up the powers they've always dreamed of having once this particular crisis is over, we already have Apple and Google planning on permanently embedding tracking at the OS level on every phone on the planet.

      Even in a worst case scenario where Covid19 become endemic worldwide and kills a million or so people every year, that's still not as bad as plenty of other diseases we've lived with for hundreds or thousand of years, and overall disease deaths would still be lower than they were just a few decades ago. That's not great, but we'd cope. Having an extreme surveillance culture become blindly accepted as the result of that would actually be the much greater threat.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh great!

        "we already have Apple and Google planning on permanently embedding tracking at the OS level on every phone on the planet."

        Oh, that's so cute. You think they have not already.

  3. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge
    FAIL

    No use

    When mass transit resumes in London and other big cities, the number of possible contacts rapidly becomes too big to effectively track. (Just imagine one person changing trains at Oxford Street station - how many possible contacts?).

    All the apps will be good for is "Big Brother" snooping.

    The number of tests being carried out is also insufficient - if the government somehow manages to do 100,000 tests per day as the politicians are saying then it would take almost 2 years to test the population of the UK (over 66.5 million). By then the epidemic would already be over.

    People can be infectious with covid-19 before showing any symptoms and many people never show symptoms but are still infectious.

    The following paper from the ECDC - https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/RRA-seventh-update-Outbreak-of-coronavirus-disease-COVID-19.pdf - shows that people who never develop symptoms can still be infectious and also that the basic reproduction number (R0) for the virus is high at 3.28

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: No use

      Location data is not supposed to be harvested, in which case it is not Big Brother - except if you're in the UK which has, curiously, decided it wanted that.

      If you can only tell who you've met and not where you met them, then you're doing tracing properly.

      If that data gets permanently erased once the crises is over, it is not Big Brother but a serious medical initiative that is justified in these times.

      1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

        Re: No use

        A person walking through Oxford Street station to change from one tube line to another during the rush hour will typically be inside the infectious range (under 1 metre) of lots of people (possibly over 100). If the person is a non-symptomatic carrier then by the time that the first detected case appears the total of possible first and second stage contacts will total several thousands - too many to be of any use.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: No use

          "A person walking through Oxford Street station to change from one tube line to another during the rush hour will typically be inside the infectious range (under 1 metre) of lots of people (possibly over 100). If the person is a non-symptomatic carrier ..."

          It's a probabilistic thing which is why tracking is supposed to check for a sustained presence rather than just walking past. However, to reverse your situation, consider an uninfected person walking through the station. They will encounter a lot of people and if several percentage of them are infective then the probability of catching a sufficient inoculum from the totality, if not from a single one, is going to be greater. A tracing app would need to take that into account.

          .

          What worries me about such an approach is this:

          AIUI the way this would work is that it starts by an individual being tested, presumably when they start displaying symptoms. The system then works back through their previous contacts and warns them. However, because it is probabilistic some of these warnings will be false positives. If the system then works forwards to secondary and tertiary contacts all the initial false positives will be false and some of the secondaries from the initial true positives will also be false. It will cascade false positives through the population. The only way to counter this would be for all those warned to be tested promptly to stop the propagation and maybe revoke false positives already propagated. The converse also applies - there will be carriers insufficiently ill ever to get checked and encounters with them will be false negatives.

          The whole system would depend on a very efficient testing system, one capable of doing far more tests than the present system and doing them far more quickly than the PCR method. The tracing system itself would get a reputation for being untrustworthy in terms of its results as well as being regarded by the likes of ourselves as untrustworthy in terms of handling PPI. The real benefit would be the testing system needed to support it - so why not concentrate resources on the testing system and forget the tracking?

      2. anonymousI

        Re: No use

        "Location data is not supposed to br harvested"

        True, true... but has anyone told Gobble, Farcebonk et al? They took "all your data belong to us" as a starting point and made it compulsory - and universal.

      3. Cynic_999

        Re: No use

        "

        If that data gets permanently erased once the crises is over ...

        "

        And how will we know whether the data has been erased or not? We were told that all DNA samples from people not charged with a crime were destoyed - but then discovered that they had all been kept. You cannot trust any government to destroy data that it believes it may find useful.

    2. Schultz
      Go

      Quite some use

      Here in Korea, testing and tracing seems to work pretty well. If someone is infected, his recent movement is analyzed (not with a proactive tracking app!). If the person visited a public place while infectious, the public is notified (e.g., supermarket, restaurant, or now with the recent imported cases the airport and public transport). If you think you may have caught it because you were in contact with someone infected or you have symptoms, you can go get tested at a dedicated drive-in facility. You are strongly discouraged to show up in a hospital -- you will get picked up by the specialists if required.

      Korea is now down to a single-digit number of cases per day. Although I wonder how the numbers will change after the recent relaxation of stay-at-home advisories.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Quite some use

        Similar Vietnam, all case's movements are published you are told to get down to testing. In areas where they have been the gov will call you and find out how close you have been. If you are down the same street they have will definitely contact you, test you and quarantine you, people have been called and diverted in cabs on the way to work for example. One case's parents where driving to another city after they knew she had been in quarantine, police intercepted them mid journey I'm guessing by tracking the phone.

        There is a good chance if the gov wants to trace your phone here they can BTW. The largest mobile provider is basically a MOD owned company, and if you buy a phone you are registered to that number, (and not relevant but just for the curios that seems to be quite an open database also as I have given my number in shops and they can get my address from it).

  4. doublelayer Silver badge

    Distances are larger than they appear on globes

    "One of the few coronavirus "success stories" has been Singapore. Despite its proximity to regional hot spots like South Korea and China"

    They're not that close. Singapore to Seoul is over 4500 km. Even considering Hong Kong as China, it's still 2500 km to Singapore from there. Some comparisons might help. Singapore to Hong Kong is a similar distance as London to Istanbul or Vancouver to Chicago. Singapore to Seoul is a similar distance as London to Tehran or Vancouver to Guatemala City. Now it's true that people go between China, South Korea, and Singapore somewhat frequently. But they also frequently go to Australia, Japan, the U.S., India, and many other places. Some of these places have bad records and some have good ones. Proximity is not a good predictive measure of where cases will start to pop up--if it was, we wouldn't have expected Italy to have been one of those places.

  5. devTrail

    Correction

    Comment Most health experts agree stopping the coronavirus lockdown requires two things ...

    No, it requires just one thing. That big business is satisfied after scavenging the rubble they created with this scam.

    1. Kane Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Correction

      "No, it requires just one thing. That big business is satisfied after scavenging the rubble they created with this scam."

      Yah, and that 5G turned all the frogs gay.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Correction

        No, but plastics, sewage and hormones in water do affect fish (and possibly amphibians) reproduction processes and sexual organ growth. Some of those animals can "swap" reproductive sex too and those pollutants can trigger these changes.

        So far this does not seem harmful to the populations, but may be a worrying trend if the levels of pollution increase (think one year in a river all frogs being born male, or all fish getting a cancer).

        The difference between the crazies and the sane is the crazies don't know why something hurts, only that it does. But they will still notify you there is a fire, even if they sometimes start it.

        So careful, complain about false understanding, not the information itself, as the information might be correct!

        (The 5G bit though is pure insanity... but as said, the information might be correct sometimes... other times it's indescribably stupid)

  6. the Jim bloke Silver badge
    Holmes

    likely to be implemented here in oz, so how to manage it?

    My immediate response is that the app will go onto a burner phone (actually my work phone - because I am not managing security on that, therefore it is not given data I personally wish to keep private)

    Being a work phone, it is old and cheap, so may not support the app - but that is up to my employer to deal with.

    Where I work carrying personal phones is actually grounds for termination - so a pretty strong argument there...

    It would require my carrying the work phone whilst not at work - a bad thing, but many bad things are now normal, and fairly trivial as such things go.

    Losing access to the work phone, through loss of job or whatever reason, would require buying a cheapo replacement, but not a problem.

    Mobile phones are basically now cheap commodity tech, all the "flagship model" hype from apple/samsung is just marketing excrement.

    1. devTrail

      Re: likely to be implemented here in oz, so how to manage it?

      Network analysis is more sophisticated than what you think. Some known nodes can be used to identify unknown ones. By cross checking few repeated encounters with other data, like work colleagues identified via LinkedIn or other legal or illegal data eventually an unknown phone will be put in the right place in few days.

  7. devTrail

    Singapore

    One of the few coronavirus "success stories" has been Singapore.

    Not a big deal since Singapore is a tropical country. Yes, I know, fake news outlets published reports stating that heath does not stop the spread of the epidemic. Unfortunately they presented the evidence with the contorted language typical of a lawyer, where the paper says that the virus in hot and dry conditions is less virulent although you cannot be sure 100% that it will be stopped they claimed that you can be sure 100% that it wouldn't work.

    1. Allan George Dyer
      Facepalm

      Re: Singapore

      @devTrail - "Singapore is a tropical country", "the paper says that the virus in hot and dry conditions is less virulent"

      Tropical usually means 'hot and humid', and Singapore is a very good example of that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Singapore

      So far the studies have just shown that the virus dies off more quickly on surfaces in hot weather, they have no concrete information about whether person-person transmission is affected.

    3. Mike 125

      Re: Singapore

      >you cannot be sure 100% that it will be stopped they claimed that you can be sure 100% that it wouldn't work.

      110%, surely???

      It's only politicians and nutjobs who talk about 100% certainty in any of this. It's the red flag. Medicine is science and science is hard, and some people can't handle that.

      A vaccine will be the real exit. (Corexit? Covidexit??? Here we go again.)

  8. Danny Boyd

    Why do Google and Apple develop new API?

    Singapore has (and had for some time) perfectly working app doing exactly what G&A are planning, and it uses existing Android/iOS API. Strange things are going on.

    1. GordonD

      Re: Why do Google and Apple develop new API?

      No mystery at all.

      1. iOS and now droid have significant restrictions on what you can do in a background app.

      2. Getting iOS and droid devices to work together at a bluetooth LE level requires a common design.

      3. Market penetration, at least on iOS, an OS level system will reach 70-80% very easily, and for a point release, very quickly.

      4. Energy efficiency. The OS can do this without trashing the battery.

      5. Privacy. The Apple/Google concept is privacy preserving. When an infected users authorises disclosure of his keys for the infectious period, they get mixed with any other keys for infected periods. Individual devices download a list of anonymous keys and see if they have a match. Zero central deanonymised data collection, and very small chance of governmental abuse.

      6. Permissions. Apps have pretty big warnings on all kinds of tracking usage, a privacy preserving framework that is only available to certain apps could be far less imposing.

      So, the only strange thing going on is big brother potentially being stymied by tech. Except in the UK maybe :)

      Don't worry, Big Brother still has terrorists and Paedophiles as excuses for mass surveillance.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Both companies are working on a second iteration that would allow contact tracking to take place within the operating system without an app being installed. This is expected to land in June."

    Does this mean that both Android and iOS will thus be able to do this "contact tracking" natively, without the user intervention of App installation?

    Bluetooth would need to be permanently enabled for this to work, so bye bye battery life.

    My Sailfish OS device is already one of the two phones I carry all the time. It may become the only device.

  10. Allan George Dyer
    Coat

    I normally keep Bluetooth off, to preserve battery life.

  11. eldakka Silver badge
    WTF?

    Both companies are working on a second iteration that would allow contact tracking to take place within the operating system without an app being installed.

    So they are going to make contact tracking a mandatory full-time feature for even after the epidemic is over?

  12. Jemma

    Hmm.

    Trusting No Hope Service* coders, who will be the lowest common denominator of the bottom of the barrel - nope.

    Leaving my Bluetooth open 24/7 to be hacked by anyone who wants to - nope.

    Trusting Reichfuhrerin Patel, Pope Rees-Mogg, Braindead Boris or if you are really unlucky the FBI and the Stainless Steel Twat. Hell nope.

    Trusting that government software like this won't drop a payload on deletion? Ahahahahaha. Nope.

    I don't go out socially because I can't (thank you so much NHS). I always wear a mask. Masks are as good for the general population as they are for NHS staff, our government are tight fisted, unprepared, lazy gormless idiots - and we're paying the price.

    My phone stays at home anyway unless I'm going somewhere in the car because on a good day I can walk 500yds (for the whole day) - a zombie apocalypse would quadruple the number of people shambling about - to maybe 10...

    Masks, antibacterials and eventually medication will solve this. Not 1984 bullshit.

    *Missed FMS for 30 years, cancer for 9 months, murdered my grandmother, and their medical negligence cost me my partner. Oh and DO NOT take ibuprofen for cv19 - allergy to ibuprofen *causes* a cough (I know I'm allergic) and anti inflammatory drugs can cause odd reactions when the immune system is triggered (ask me how I know, a similar reaction did permanent lung damage).

    1. Jemma

      Re: Hmm.

      Correction: anti biologicals (bleach, clinical uv*, etc).

      Brain having a bad morning today.

      * DO NOT use if you aren't trained - it will kill virii and bacteria but it'll also give anything alive the worse day of its life including people, pets, plants.

  13. Jusme
    Stop

    Wrong answer

    This is the wrong answer, because:

    It's a technical solution to a medical problem. The only long-term solution is a vaccine. In the meantime, we either destroy our society or have thousands die. A tough choice, and at the moment we seem to be managing to do both.

    It assumes a sufficient %age of the population have suitable hardware, and are willing to, and capable of, using this "app". Unlikely.

    The chances of developing something reliable and effective on this scale at such short notice, even for these rock-star organisations, is minimal. There will be bugs, and security flaws. It will be pwnd by $badguys.

    It's a prime example of how so many see technology they don't understand as "magic", and assume that magic can solve any problem, because it's magic, isn't it...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wrong answer

      Wrong.

      A vaccine is not the only solution. It is A solution.

      It's a corona virus and it is unclear that long term immunity to a corona virus (specifically this one) is possible, either via vaccine or naturally.

      Any palliative solution that has very high survivability with low bad long term outcomes is equally useful. The HCQ+Azi+Zn or Remdevisir etc. are all potential treatments where the patient survives just fine. The HCQ++ antiviral treatment has been well understood since the turn of the century. Modern antivirals less so.

      1. MacroRodent

        Re: Wrong answer

        Indeed, if it turns out that immunity to coronavirus is short-lived, an effective medicine may turn out to be the better solution (there is precendent: there still is no HIV vaccine, but the disease can be kept in check by an antiviral cocktail). Of course, at this point we do not know which is it, so looking for both a medicine and a vaccine are top priorities.

    2. Adair Silver badge

      Re: Wrong answer

      Lacking an effective long term vaccine it may end up being best to learn to live with the virus. Learning to focus well tuned medical attention on the 'few' (relatively) who are vulnerable, with both preventative (if we find such) and curative treatment. And letting society overall establish a new equilibrium.

      We probably need to give some hard and creative thought about how we travel and run our economies - actions that are long overdue.

      NZ looks as though it may effectively wipe out the virus, but what are they going to do then? They will still have the creative work of managing their engagement with the rest of the world - presumably going into permanent exile is not an option. Their problem, and solutions, are also ours; we will all have to learn how to live with the virus. Assuming no effective long term vaccine is found.

    3. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: Wrong answer

      @Jusme: "we either destroy our society or have thousands die." You have created a false dichotomy - destroy society and millions die, so the choice is "have millions die or have thousands die". We cannot keep up the current situation and expect to save lives - it is probably too late, anyway. For example, NHS staff are so close to stress-related illness that, even if a vaccine came along tomorrow, people are going to die of non-covid causes because there won't be enough staff, or the ones that see you you will be too burned-out to do the job properly. The calculus now relates to when to accept that more lives will be saved by accepting the deaths from Covid-19 - though short-termist politicians and the public health absolutists are not going to think about the wider issues.

    4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Wrong answer

      "It's a technical solution to a medical problem."

      It's not even that. Based on the excellent performance of my Bluetooth headphones, I'd guess that one of these apps would reckon I'd been in more or less permanent contact with all my immediate neighbours for the past four weeks and had occasional contact with several hundred others despite being entirely innocent on all charges. That's an *appaling* false positive rate.

  14. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Joke

    It would be so much simpler

    if there happened to be a variant of the virus which included some of those handy-dandy luminescent firefly or jellyfish genes. Then we'd just have to wait until nightfall and see who glowed in the dark...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    many European nations hesitated when it came to instituting lockdowns.

    Really? My recollection is that many nations started lockdowns and border closures almost right away, leaving Brussels plaintively bleating about there being no consultation, and how there should be discussions and agreement on collective action. Most members just said "screw you, we're not going to hang about while you form a committee".

    1. davenewman

      Re: many European nations hesitated when it came to instituting lockdowns.

      Since health is not a competence of the EU, but strictly that of national governments, it doesn't matter what the European Parliament or Commission does.. The EU is as powerless to intervene in this crisis as Donald Trump is against the state governors in the USA.

    2. Hairy Airey

      Re: many European nations hesitated when it came to instituting lockdowns.

      You're not wrong. The EU are pretty much dead after this, free movement died with this virus. The Northern states don't want to bail out the Southern states (they think it'll just encourage them to be profligate with money). The EU takes months to make a decision. They'd probably form a committee of all member nations if their building was on fire.

  16. Tubz Bronze badge
    Stop

    Apple + Google + Gov = privacy disaster at some point it will be abused !

  17. I am the liquor

    The app will also record the proximity between the two devices

    How do they determine range from Bluetooth signals?

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: The app will also record the proximity between the two devices

      Everyone's phone in proximity will beep and/or buzz, activate NFC and urge everyone to touch phones. Range between devices is always zero thus guaranteeing everyone alerted was definitely close enough. It's a plan so perfect it can't possibly fail.

      1. the Jim bloke Silver badge

        Re: The app will also record the proximity between the two devices

        You are forgetting the other part of the proximity equation.

        Duration.

        So you will need to hold your device against everyone elses, for 15 minutes. this is a valid justification for preserving the 2 person limit (dont know if that is a thing outside Oz, but its working for us, even with the inevitable non-compliance)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The app will also record the proximity between the two devices

          I changed my underwear. It kept the alligators away. I do it every day. It's keeping the alligators away.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flats and Terraced Houses

    I live in a terraced house. It is five metres wide. I am also next to a busy road where students and construction workers park. When I sit on my sofa I am about five metres from the parked cars outside, and everyone walking down the footpath.

    I once did a test by enabling Bluetooth contact logging on a laptop and left it in the front room. Fascinating seeing the hundreds of people a day parking up, walking past. I soon worked out which were my neighbour's phones on the other sides of the walls. And the regular times certain people would arrive and park outside. They even made it easy by calling their phone "Dave's iPhone".

    These tracking apps therefore puzzle me. I will get a huge list of "contacts" even though I have thick brick walls between me and them. There are going to be a huge percentage of false and bogus "contacts" that it would make the data for me useless.

    This is going to be a similar issue for those living in flats. Especially if you live near the stairs or lift.

    These things are clearly being developed by people living in big detached houses who don't seem to be thinking about the rest of us. How would an app work in somewhere densely populated like Tokyo? Walk down a corridor of your apartment block and you will be in "contact" with every one of your neighbours.

  19. Mage
    Coat

    An App?

    1) People have to install it.

    2) There needs to be massive real ongoing testing or who do you trace?

    3) Will it even work?

    4) Presumably people would need to have data on?

    5) Contact Tracing or Notification of someone nearby? Totally different.

    This isn't a solution, except to gather info on people.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: An App?

      You forgot one.

      My phone is a very dumb one that doesn't support bluetooth.

      (upvoted you anyway)

  20. nicooberdorfer

    What are the side effects?

    To fight Covid-19, we could use a few more technologies. However, we should not rush to technological solutions that could cause unintended side effects. Exciting about this is the interview with the head of technology at Microsoft - he thinks that face recognition should be the last department we attack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvJPW2VW69M&t=2s

  21. MyVoiceIsMyPassport

    "The end result is that a majority of Android phones will not be able to take advantage of these APIs. Furthermore, it may take a long time to see this patch make its way to individual users as vendors are famed for dragging their feet when it comes to software updates in normal times."

    My understanding is that Google will release the APIs as an update to Google Play, thereby reaching a far wider set of Android customers and much faster than an OS update.

  22. cloth

    Standards?

    Oh (cough)

    It usually takes years for "standards" to be created. Plenty of long-winded phone calls and "challenging" opinions. And this thing has to work asap, across multiple systems in multiple countries and, as the article hints at, should really work globally so that travellers can get notified as they move around the world - regardless of where they are now. Hmmm, that sounds easy then . Oh, and anyone noticed that America, Russia and China aren't best buddies ? If we're lucky we'll get individual countries producing their own variants. And, it only works if the testing is upped and works - no issues there either then.

  23. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Or smartphone tracking could be pointless and counterproductive

    Ross Anderson has a good piece on the problems with smartphone tracking.

    Techies like smartphone contact tracking because it lets them believe there's a technological solution to the pandemic. Governments like it because they're addicted to surveillance. Journalists like the idea of it because it's controversial and draws an audience.

    None of those are good arguments for deploying it.

  24. Greebo39

    Porting of Unique and Otherwise Important Phone Apps

    My everyday smartphone is a Jolla Phone (the original one) and runs Sailfish OS. Android is available but only up to ver 4.1 "Jelly Bean" thanks to the Alien Dalvik compatability layer, and access to Google Play is not available.

    My wife's Aquarius runs the Ubuntu Touch OS which is a very nice, secure system but has no ability to run Android apps at all.

    Most apps can be substituted for, but surely supposedly "vital" ones that fulfil a function of alleged NATIONAL IMPORTANCE, should be ported to as many systems as possible, not just the two most popular systems -- for goodness sake they haven't even ported to Windows Phones which, though pretty crap from my experience of a year's use of one waiting for my Jolla after my Nokia N9 drowned in my pocket in the Grand Union Canal, gained a certain amount of popularity.

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