Britain’s COVID-19 app: The game changer that wasn’t

first_imgAs Britain’s COVID-19 infections soared in the spring, the government reached for what it hoped could be a game changer – a smartphone app that could automate some of the work of human contact tracers.The origin of the NHS COVID-19 App goes back to a meeting on March 7 when three Oxford scientists met experts at NHSX, the technical arm of the UK’s health service. The scientists presented an analysis that concluded manual contact tracing alone couldn’t control the epidemic.”Given the infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2 and the high proportion of transmissions from presymptomatic individuals, controlling the epidemic by manual contact tracing is infeasible,” concluded the Oxford scientists’ paper, which was published in the journal Science two months later. Topics : By early May, transport secretary Grant Shapps was heralding a test of the app on England’s Isle of Wight. “Later in the month, that app will be rolled out and deployed, assuming the tests are successful, of course, to the population at large,” he said. “This is a fantastic way to ensure that we are able to really keep a lid on this going forward.”Pat Gelsinger, chief executive of VMware Inc, a Silicon Valley tech firm hired to develop the app, told a Fox Business television interviewer on May 8, “I tell you, we think this is the best one in the world and we’re really thrilled to be working with the NHS in the UK to help bring it about.”But by the end of May, government officials were downplaying the app. In an interview with Sky News, Hancock called the app “helpful” but said traditional contact tracing needed to be rolled out first. Quoting another official, he said, “It puts the cherry on the cake but isn’t the cake.”Behind the scenes, NHSX testers were discovering serious technical problems.The agency had opted to develop an app that collected and stored data on central servers that could be used by health authorities and epidemiologists to study the disease. It relied on a technology called Bluetooth to determine who recently had been near someone displaying symptoms and for how long.NHSX testers were finding that while the app could detect three-quarters of nearby smartphones using Google’s Android operating system, it sometimes could only identify four percent of Apple iPhones, according to government officials. The problem was that, on Apple devices, the app often couldn’t utilize Bluetooth because of a design choice by Apple to preserve user privacy and prolong battery life.The issue was no secret. Apple and Google had jointly announced in April that they would release a toolkit to better enable Bluetooth on contact-tracing apps. But to protect user privacy, it would only work on apps that stored data on phones, not central servers. The NHSX app didn’t work that way.The government insisted it had developed a successful work-around to overcome the Apple issue. But not everyone was convinced. The advocacy group Privacy International, which had tested the app in early May, “found it wasn’t working properly on iPhones,” Gus Hosein, the group’s executive director, told Reuters. But because of the government’s assurances, he said, “We just assumed we were doing something wrong.”Other countries, including Germany, decided they would change their apps to work with the Apple-Google toolkit. That raised another problem with the UK app — it likely wouldn’t be compatible with many other contact-tracing apps so British travellers wouldn’t be notified if they were exposed to the virus.On June 18, weeks after the UK app was supposed to be rolled out, government officials announced a dramatic U-turn — they would abandon the app being tested on the Isle of Wight and try to create one that worked with the Apple-Google technology. Work had already begun on it and they had learned lessons from the test, they said.NHSX referred questions about the app to the health department, which said, “Developing effective contract-tracing technology is a challenge facing countries around the world and there is currently no solution that is accurate enough on estimating distance, identifying other users and calculating duration which are all required for contract tracing.”A spokesman for VMware said it “is proud of the work we have done and continue to do to rapidly develop an application to support the UK’s contact tracing and testing efforts.”A government official expressed confidence the app would be ready by the autumn or winter — although initially, the official said, it might not contain contact tracing at all, but offer other services that are yet to be determined.center_img The Oxford researchers believed that a smartphone app could help locate individuals who didn’t know they were infected – and by alerting them quickly could reduce and even halt the epidemic if enough people used it. Within days of the meeting, NHSX began the process of awarding millions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts to develop such an app, government procurement records show.In the weeks that followed, ministers seized on the technology as a route out of Britain’s lockdown that began on March 23. At a Downing Street coronavirus briefing on April 12, health secretary Matt Hancock announced that testing had begun on what he called the government’s “next step – a new NHS app for contact tracing.”He explained that people could use the app to report feeling unwell and it would anonymously alert other app users who recently had been in close contact with them. On April 28, he said he expected the app to be ready by mid-May.Privately, some researchers who had proposed the app were dismayed that the government had stopped widespread testing on March 12, a decision they believed undermined the app’s effectiveness and public health in general. “We were very clear from the start that this thing needed to work with testing,” David Bonsall, a clinical scientist at Oxford who attended the March 7 meeting, told Reuters.last_img read more

Hillingdon drops SSgA for LGIM on index-tracking mandate

first_imgThe London Borough of Hillingdon Pension Fund has hired Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) to oversee a £215m (€238m) index-tracking mandate.The local authority fund, which had £810m, hired LGIM to replace State Street Global Advisors, first appointed in late 2008.According to its most recent annual report, from March 2015, SSgA’s mandate for Hillingdon was worth £161m, equivalent to 20% of scheme assets.Philip Corthorne, chair of the fund’s pensions committee, cited a desire to cut management costs when describing the reasons for LGIM’s hire. “We have chosen LGIM because of its expertise in index-tracking fund management and its broad range of cost-effective pooled funds, which will enable us to take a step closer towards the government’s pooling agenda, with management and reporting of the mandate to eventually be carried out by the pool.”LGIM was among the first managers hired by the London CIV, the pooling vehicle for London’s local authority funds, and was set to manage a number of passive equity sub-funds.The manager is the largest single manager of local authority assets, overseeing £44bn, a figure significantly boosted after it won a £6.5bn passive mandate from seven pension funds in late 2015.last_img read more

Science, Enforcement Lag as Car Accidents, Claims Rise in Legal Cannabis States

first_imgInsurance Journal 18 November 2019Family First Comment: “Colorado, Oregon, and Washington saw a combined 5.2% increase in the rate of police-reported crashes after legalizing recreational marijuana, compared with neighboring states where such sales are illegal, according to data compiled and analyzed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.”Car crashes in the first three states to legalize recreational marijuana have soared as law enforcement and regulators struggle to define driving high, let alone determine how to fight it.Colorado, Oregon, and Washington saw a combined 5.2% increase in the rate of police-reported crashes after legalizing recreational marijuana, compared with neighboring states where such sales are illegal, according to data compiled and analyzed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Researchers tallied crash rates between 2012 and 2016.Auto-insurance collision claims in the three states have also increased a combined 6% since legalization, compared with neighboring western states without legal weed, the Highway Loss Data Institute found. Analysts controlled for variables such as driver population, car model, weather, and driving environment.The increases have caught Congress and federal regulators off guard as states with legalized marijuana seek answers. Unlike with alcohol, scientifically there’s neither a proven definition of marijuana-impaired driving nor a method of detecting it, making it difficult to police and prosecute. Insurance companies say driving under the influence statistics don’t separate out marijuana and can’t be used to set rates, taking away another potential deterrent to driving high. And Congress has impeded regulator efforts to collect more information on the subject.“Drunk driving is still the No. 1 killer on our roads,” said Helen Witty, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “But drugged driving, as it’s legalized across this country, is a huge, emerging issue.”Scientists know that drivers who are high tend to drive at lower speeds, have more difficulty staying in their lanes, and are slower to brake in an emergency than drunk drivers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported.READ MORE: https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2019/11/18/548752.htmlast_img read more