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Opening Up?

July 23, 2024 by Alistair Enser

Is our resolve waning? Is the public taking decisions into its own hands, without clarity of a COVID exit plan from the Government? Or are the statistics incorrect?

I notice that the latest Google mobility reports show a general increase in people attending workplaces, and fewer people staying at home, while visits to parks are almost returning to pre-lockdown levels.

We can all debate the accuracy or even validity of the data. However, the trends from the stats over the last couple of weeks seem consistent. Meanwhile, somewhat anecdotally, my perception is that it seems busier in my street, there are more people out and about and traffic seems to have increased.

I understand that the Government is due to publish documents on how the lockdown will be eased this week but, given the above, it would suggest that they do need to deliver a plan which the public supports and respects, or we could end up in hot water.

Technology to the rescue

I have also seen increased activity on social media and more good news stories about technology such as thermal imaging assisting with detection, which is exciting, but we must proceed with caution and avoid the ‘Emperor’s new clothes syndrome’

At Reliance High-Tech, we pride ourselves of being at the forefront of innovation, but we always believe in a more holistic and consultative view. For example, on their own, the environment and accuracy of thermal detection systems can vary wildly – from useful to useless.

Working with our customers, we ensure they have a strategic plan around the technology and the needs and drivers. One that considers the risk, the environment, and how a system approach with other technologies will truly achieve the objectives, improve detection, data accuracy and reduce risk. Finally, we agree what tangible outputs and actions should follow.

We already have a number of active customers using this type of technology – and alternatives – which I hope to report further on over the next few weeks.

Tracking correctly

There is also a lot of speculation about the imminent arrival of apps that will track our movement and so manage the transmission of the pandemic in the open. There is plenty of discussion around the best way for these to be implemented, with rival views on the best place to store the data collected – on our devices, or centrally. Each carries an implication for civil liberties and effectiveness.

We have to be very careful here and weigh up the value provided by these apps against the potential for a surveillance state. This is something that is very close to our hearts at Reliance High-Tech, particularly around notions of data protection and privacy – and finding the right balance between the two.

As the old adage says, “there are many ways to skin a cat”. It is the same with technology and apps. Perhaps different applications can assist in helping contain the spread, while employing alternative ways of collating anonymised information from wide and distant groups of people without infringing on civil liberties. In fact, we are working with a business partner, Krowdthink, and their solutions both involve anonymised users and neatly avoid the collation of individual data.

Tracing the connections

App-based tracking is often mentioned in conjunction with contact tracing procedures, where those that have come into contact with the virus can be tracked manually and any contact with other people assessed.

Yet in practical terms, how do you track down and interface with hundreds of thousands of people? It would take thousands of people to do this manually. The reality is we need a better way of dealing with this. All of the apps that track people prior to tracing rely on a statistically significant sample size and people having been diagnosed with the coronavirus, registered as self-isolating, or at least providing check-ins on their health status. All of these need to work in unison to provide anything that is really meaningful or in practical terms actionable? As is often the case, there is no silver bullet to this problem.

There are other technologies which may assist us in the broader fight against COVID-19, such as those currently being rolled out by Reliance High-Tech in places like universities, hospitals and retail. For example, using advanced analytics we can automatically assess whether people are maintaining social distancing, thus being two metres apart, moving in the right direction, or if they are authorised to potentially act differently – such as recognising the difference between a doctor and a member of the public. These can be linked to sounders or automated voice warnings, if necessary, asking those that are not being safe to stay apart.

Even this type of technology has to be situational. For example, family groups may legitimately be closer together. As such, the important thing is that different environments and different businesses will have varying needs. Selling point solutions is easy; jumping on the gravy train is easy. But delivering highly effective and useful systems integrating the most effective and most appropriate solutions is what customers need and deserve.

Stay safe!