Coronavirus in the United Kingdom, the test and tracking system starts: 20 thousand “hounds” in the field


LONDON – “Test, trace” and 20 thousand “hounds”. This morning in England and Scotland there is no mention of anything else because the new test and tracking system against coronavirus, part of Phase 2 in the fight against the pandemic, has been active for some hours.


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How does it work
Premise: this is a system still to be refined, but the British government of Boris Johnson launched it quickly, before it was completely completed, both due to the pressures after its public promises and because on 1 June overseas officially starts the Phase 2. It is the day in which the open-air shops and salons of car dealers will be reopened, while for all the other shops it will be discussed again on June 15, always with the measures of social distancing and other common health precautions. Still nothing for pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, although for the breweries an exemption is expected in the coming weeks, always respecting the safety rules.

That said, any British citizen or UK resident will now be able to receive a phone call from the authorities to impose self-isolation for up to 14 days. This occurs if another person experiences symptoms of Covid-19 and reports it to British health care. This, if the subject’s positivity is confirmed, immediately activates one of the “20,000 hounds”, who questions the possible coronavirus patient on all the “direct contacts” he has had recently. Specifically, from two days before and seven days after the manifestation of the first symptoms. Hence, two-week quarantine will be imposed on people who “come into contact”, even if they have no symptoms and even if they have already contracted and passed coronavirus (“immunity is unreliable,” says the government). If, on the other hand, the citizens indicated by the reports already have symptoms of Covid-19, the rest of the people who share the house with them must also go into self-isolation for the next 14 days.

“Direct contact” means having come into contact with a person, outside the family unit, at a distance of less than two meters and for at least 15 minutes. But how can such a thing be imposed? Premier Johnson and Health Minister Hancock have openly said that they rely on the good “civic sense” of the British. Which is normally largely indisputable in the UK. But how will the citizens behave now after the scandal of Dominic Cummings, Boris’ “rasputin”, who has defended him strenuously in the last hours despite breaking the “lockdown” rules? The risk of “anarchist” behavior is increasingly widespread.

Johnson and Hancock so far have only hinted at possible administrative sanctions for those who will not respect the quarantine imposed from above, but today it is an extrema ratio. Furthermore, there are fears that, even for privacy reasons, infected citizens may for example not tell the truth about some people they really met. Or report – anonymously – some acquaintances not too nice to make him impose a 14-day isolation. In short, almost everything will be based on the ethics of the British.



The Isle of Wight experiment: “So you live with the tracking app”

The app issue
Many of these uncertainties could be resolved with the use of the NHSx tracking app experimented for several weeks on the Isle of Wight, but unfortunately the app is not yet ready to make the big leap across the country, due to some malfunctions and incompatibility with various devices or cell phones. “It will be ready next week”, assured Minister Hancock, thus imagining its use, also on a voluntary basis, already for next Monday, for the complete “test, track and trace” project. The NHSx app uses the bluetooth system of mobile phones and automatically reports all those who have come into contact with someone potentially infected (spontaneous user reporting, pending the test) within two meters.

Quarantine for travelers
The measure comes after the announcement of the mandatory quarantine for all those – including British citizens – who will (on 8 June onwards) re-enter British soil, even if they have no symptoms. A measure that will be reviewed every three weeks and which has sparked many controversies because it was considered unnecessary by its critics at the peak and very little timely. Yesterday, forty conservative MPs went up against Johnson against the travel quarantine.

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Mario Calabresi
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