Nuisance for a reason

The past week has seen many businesses complaining that the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app has started sending out too many self-isolate alerts, leaving them short of staff. 

It’s the new jury duty. We never think it’s going to happen to us. Our use of the contact tracing app has mainly just served as a celebration of the QR code, a once-mocked marketing gimmick repurposed into a cultural cornerstone used by all. It’s been sat dormant in a folder named Miscellaneous, between Ship Finder and Crazy Helium Funny Face Voice, for months on end, only ever summoned when scrambling to check into a pub.

That all changed last weekend, when a notification had the gall to fill our lock screen with a command to self-isolate immediately.

Alan Woodward of Surrey University has referred to such alerts as “a nuisance for a reason”. “Something of the order of half a million to 600,000 cases were averted as a result of using this app,” he said, referring to research from the Alan Turing Institute. “So that has to be worth it.”

Worth it it may be, and we’ve been only too pleased to stay in and watch England versus Denmark on ITV Hub, which has so far been a great game. But we can’t deny this marks the first time since a teenager on Depop offered us £50 for an old Thrasher hoodie that an app has tested our conscience.

As we first read the notification we cut a figure of George W Bush reading The Pet Goat, torn between abiding by its command and accidentally (oops!) deleting the app altogether. Then we asked ourself, “What would Laurence Fox do?” and, as ever, recovered an intense motivation to absolutely not do that.

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