The Daily Telegraph is reporting today that the Government’s coronavirus test-and-trace strategy could be trialled first on the Isle of Wight, although it is said that a final decision has not yet been made. It is proposed that the trial takes place while the lockdown remains in place, with a smart-phone app being released to Islanders who would then be able to use it to report Covid-19 symptoms and send alerts to those they have been in contact with, informing them that they need to self-isolate. Swab testing would also be available.
The Isle of Wight has apparently been chosen because it has a single health trust with a ‘geographically-defined area’ with fewer Covid-19 cases than many other areas in the country. The app for smartphones is being developed by the NHS, and to be most effective over half of the population would need to download and use it. The report is said to be based on documents seen by the Daily Telegraph and says: “This is not about a trial: we are phasing in things that will be launched across the UK following launch on the Isle of Wight.”
The reports come after an opinion piece by MP Bob Seely published in the same newspaper last Thursday, which he described as ‘My thoughts on how we could pilot lockdown lifting on the Isle of Wight’. Mr Seely has failed to respond to questions about the article, which appeared just a few hours after Mr Seely had told the IW Observer that he was ‘not sure’ whether Covid-19 restrictions should be lifted earlier on the Island than the rest of the UK. He has also failed to clarify whether he was paid for the article.
In a statement issued yesterday Mr Seely said: “I welcome the proposal, although clearly we are waiting for full details and confirmation of go-ahead. In conversations with Matt Hancock and Health Ministers recently and over the past few years, I have made the case for the Island piloting schemes, especially in ideas around telemedicine and the use of drones – to drive improvements in patient care.
“There is no question of ‘just’ lifting the lockdown. However, the elements for planning lockdown easing – as well as long term Covid-19 suppression – can be put together on the Island prior to rolling out nationally.
“We need to find a way out of the current situation. We need to start planning. The Government is doing the right thing and I believe that this pilot will help make the Island as well as the UK safer.”
Green Party spokeswoman Vix Lowthian counselled caution. She said: “It is good news that access to testing for the corona virus for those in care homes and over 65 years old has been increased. But the news in today’s Telegraph that the Isle of Wight is to be a full-scale Corona Virus Test and Trace area must be treated with caution.
“We are informed that 50% of us – over 50,000 Islanders – will be required to voluntarily download and use an App on our smart phone which will monitor its use for contract tracing.
“The government, our MP and our Council Leader need to be clear with Islanders on the consequences of the use of this App. It’s likely it could use GPS data to monitor our whereabouts, and will hold personal medical records about us. Who will own this data? How will it be shared and kept secure? Apart from the Corona Virus pandemic, what could this data be used for?
“Whilst technology can make our lives easier and safer, that must not be at the expense of our privacy and freedom. The Isle of Wight is a warm and thriving community – we are not the government’s lab rats.”