Monday, 5th October, 2020

[Day 203]

This was an indeterminate sort of day not knowing whether it was to rain or not to rain. I did spend a certain amount of time sending off emails in various directions as, with the semi-lockdown existing in many areas, it seems more sensible to try and FaceTime or to Skype friends where I can. In the park, we met with the friend who had kindly loaned us her book on trees and we ended handing this back having had a good read of it. One of my friends had sent me a whole series of cartoons (COVID-19 themed) so we had a good chuckle at these and then passed them onto others who would appreciate them. Of course, when we undertake our walk we can observe the changing of the seasons and there is certainly an autumnal whiff to the air at the moment. Having got storm ‘Alex‘ out of the way which has given us such stormy and windy weather over the last few days, it was pleasant to get back to what you might term a ‘normal’ autumn day.

The day has been filled with the news of the 16,000 cases of COVID-19 cases that have somehow been lost off the system. There are two facets to this problem. The first is that a national data system should not have been processed using Excel software which will work fine for most day-to-day office applications but is not designed to cope with the kind of national data flows that we are gathering in the middle of a pandemic. So the first question is that Excel itself should not have been used but a large relational database, common in the NHS but apparently a mystery to Public Health England and the Trace-and-Test regime. And then, to compound the problem, an out-of-date version of Excel was being used which would only handle 65,536 rows of data. Modern versions of this software can handle millions of rows of data but in this case, data was simply ‘dropping off the end’ when the system could not cope with it. So the root of the problem was an out-of-date version of inappropriate software which is a problem that surely could have been foreseen. The tragic point of this story is that if you examine the thousands of cases not put on the system and therefore not within the purview of test-and-trace then literally thousands of people are in the community infecting thousands of people more with the virus – some of whom will undoubtedly die. Some £12 billion has been spent on this system, equivalent to the cost of two aircraft carriers and equating to a bill of £450 for every family in the country. One has to ask the question – who is going to get the sack for such a monumental (and fundamental) error like this? It seems that the government might have known about this since last July and knew they were coping with a ‘legacy system’ – one commentator has compared this to constructing a car by sellotaping the parts together. One has to say that presiding over a ramshackle type system and then refusing to apologise or acknowledge any degree of blame is rapidly becoming the hallmark of this government. My ‘back of an envelope’ calculations taking into account the current ‘R’ rate and the known death rate is that this data glitch might have caused about 180 deaths – about the same as a major air crash. Can you imagine the outcry that would have occurred if an aircrash could be attributed to a dubious reading on an out-of-date air traffic control system – but, in terms of lives lost, this is about what has happened?

As I write, it looks as Donald Trump is discharging himself from hospital whilst tweeting ‘Don’t be afraid of COVID!” Some medical professionals in the USA are absolutely appalled by the reckless behaviour of Trump last night going for a ‘drive-by’ in his specially fortified car. As this is sealed against chemical attack, then the risks of infection for members of the security staff, in the vehicle with him but without the benefit of PPE is quite high. At the very least, they should quarantine themselves for 14 days and it is is quite possible that some may develop the full-blown virus and then die – just to satisfy Trump’s vanity. Not for the first time, I am lost for words!