Will contact tracing allow us to go back to our lives?

Who knew that our mobile phone would be the device that would keep us safe from the big and hairy claws of the Coronavirus monster? Turns out it was that simple. All you have to do now is just download the government app and let it do its magic. And it is so simple. You can get your life back, go shopping, visit your friends and go to the beach.

All you have to do is download the app that will track your every step and warn you when you’ve been in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID19. In order for this to work, you will have to be closer than 2 meters with that person for more than 15 minutes. When that happens, as it stands, you will receive a phone call ordering you, or maybe just advising you to stay home for 14 days. At the moment, the app is voluntary, but Hancock has said they won’t hesitate to make it mandatory if not enough people do the right thing and download the app.

I have a few problems with this whole idea. I am sure it was well thought of by smart and sneaky people, who after all have good intentions and our health, wellbeing and safety in mind.

As it stands to work now though, you will call your Corona consultant if you suspect you have the symptoms of this deadly disease. You will be advised to stay home and you will either be visited by your advisor or sent a test kit I believe. If you test positive you will then be called, by your friendly Contact Tracer, who will politely ask you details of your recent interactions. They will need to know people’s names, phone numbers, possibly their email or even home address. On top of that, for the safety of the public and yours, they will ask you what places you’ve visited recently. What train you’ve taken and when. The exact time you went food shopping last. They will then use the data you’ve provided to contact as many people as possible starting with the friends you’ve met and tell them to self-isolate for 14 days. I don’t know how much choice they will have but I can imagine their workplace might be contacted too and they will be told by their employer to not come in and take unpaid time off.

They are also talking about tracing our phones. Now if your phone is close to a phone of someone who has tested positive or who has been in contact with someone who has been in contact with someone who has stood in a queue to Tesco next to someone who tested positive, you will be contacted and advised to stay home for 14 days. The word advised is just a moderate way of saying ordered, really.

I have seen a few different news stories about the contact tracing and how it would work. Some say it would require everyone to download an app and it would be voluntary. Some say it would rely on Bluetooth regardless if the app is downloaded or not. There is however an even darker and scarier version of it which I will get to in a minute. If you own a smartphone and you have installed the most recent system update, you will find your phone now has an option to enable a COVID19 tracing app to work if you choose to download it. If you have an Android phone, all you have to do is go to settings/Google and you will see COVID19 exposure notifications. I assume Apple users can find it in their respective settings too. This new feature still requires an app but who knows how long this will be up to us? I read a Men’s Health article the other day that said smart watches can also pick up COVID19 symptoms. I understand that if you’re genuinely scared of getting the virus then giving up your privacy like this is a small price to pay. But we have to ask ourselves, where will this stop? How can we be sure our sensitive data won’t be shared with advertisers or worse, used against us? Maybe not now. But one day. Think about it.

Your recent system update makes tracking and tracing possible

First let me tell you what a trained Contact Tracer in California has to say about it. I know what you’re thinking, “California? Why would I care about it if I’m in the UK?” Well you said the same thing about the virus 4 months ago when it was in China, so let’s think clearly here because the draconian measures and freedom restrictions have followed the virus around the globe and they aren’t about to stop now. I’ll attach a link to the video so you can take a look. Some of the things she said are already making their way into our lives as we “go back to normal”. The lady in the video, who is a trained and certified Contact Tracer, says that if a person’s test comes back positive, they need to self – isolate for a minimum of 10 days. Isolation in this case means, they are not allowed to be around anyone of their household and they have to have access to their own bathroom. So, if they don’t live alone and have only one bathroom, they may be asked to go to a hotel. What happens if they refuse? Well the authorities threaten the use of force. The Contact Tracer can also request a video proof showing that the infected person has access to their own bathroom to successfully isolate in their own home. It doesn’t stop there. The Contact Tracer will also ask who this person spent time with recently and even if those people are healthy, the Contact Tracer will ask them to quarantine themselves for 14 days. She says that if the person who is self – isolating or the person who is self – quarantining has kids, and nobody to take care of them, they will come and take the kids away. Can you imagine the government overstepping that much? All this even if you’re healthy and someone sick was near you at some point. Not to mention that when you come out of the 14-day quarantine and go to a pub or a restaurant and someone has symptoms or tested positive again, guess what? You have to go into quarantine again. They will take your kids if you have them and it can go on forever. If this sounds like it would never happen or be allowed or that people would rebel against it, let’s just look back at the last 4 months and see what’s happened, what has been allowed and what people haven’t rebelled against. I mean we’ve had police patrolling parks and harassing people sitting on benches and fining couples for Netflix and chilling. Government has taken away your right to make informed choices and take your own risks and now they are also telling you to cover your face and take your right to breathe fresh air away from you and you have stickers, some traffic Marshalls and police on the High Street restricting your movement. Five or six months ago this would have sounded like something out of a sci – fi movie about a failed utopia.

You might be asking yourself how they will know what pub or restaurant you went to and when. This brings me to what is already being introduced in the UK as well. Let’s start by explaining that going to the pub is not going to be the same. You will be required to stay at your table, order drinks through an app (Wetherspoons have had an app-based table service for a while now). No more going up to the bar, dancing or flirting with members of the opposite sex. Before you even go to the pub, you will be required to register with your mobile phone number or email address and that is how they will know where you are and who with. I know what you’re saying. Maybe you will give out a fake phone number or email, or you will create a fake email address and even go as far as buying a cheap mobile phone if they send a confirmation text or something you have to present to the bouncer. But how many of your friends will do the same? What if they do tell the Contact Tracer you were there with them? What if you get caught on CCTV or tagged in somebody’s Instagram post?

Will pubs ever look the same as before the pandemic?

Hair salons, barber shops, cinemas, maybe even supermarkets eventually, will all quite possibly adopt the same system where in order to use their services you will have to confirm your attendance with a valid phone number. If you are a member of a gym, then you can expect similar restrictions. Most gyms already have a system in place that helps them monitor who is in the gym at any given time so a Contact Tracer would just need to request details of people who attended the gym while a confirmed patient was in the building. They may not stop there at all. If you don’t want to quarantine yourself for the third time in the space of 3 months, they may not call the police on you but they can contact your employer who will then order you to stay home for 14 days and if you are seen outside or aren’t careful with your social media, you can lose your job or the time spent at home will be unpaid. I can’t be sure but if I have thought of it then I am sure they have too.

I encourage you to watch the video which can be found here https://youtu.be/9Yoa4zCeHAc where it is explained in a greater detail how dangerous contact tracing really is. Chinese citizens live under such regime on daily basis. They are under constant surveillance, spied on everywhere they go by the social credit system, which is like credit score but much more sinister. I learned about it a long time before the pandemic and already saw signs of similar things taking place in the UK, but I believed and hoped it would never get to that stage. Yet here we are. Three months into lockdown and the government is introducing a tracing system that looks a lot like the one in China. Someone commented on a link I shared to my Facebook wall a couple of months ago. He said, “We’re not turning into China”. I wanted to reply but the comment disappeared as he deleted me. If there is one thing I’ve learned from the pandemic is that there is a small step from advice to mandatory.

Is constant surveillance a small price to pay for safety from a virus that may or may not get you?

And even if government doesn’t find a way to make sure everyone has an app on their phone, there are other ways. Think of it like going through a gate at the airport. You don’t have to have your boarding pass on your phone. You don’t have to do everything electronically. You can print your boarding pass but how many people will choose the convenience of having all their details on their smartphone? The same thing might be done with the app. You don’t have to download it but going about your life, like going through an airport gate, will become more difficult. Cinemas, gyms or pubs will require people to prove they aren’t supposed to be self – isolating or quarantining and if they can’t, they may need to find another pub or gym. But for how long? How long before they give in?

If you have an Android phone, then you probably noticed that it’s impossible to remove Facebook app. Up until recently it was even impossible to delete your Facebook account on Facebook. Think about it. Your Samsung phone comes with Facebook as a default app and best you can do is disable it. Who’s to say that every phone from now on won’t have some COVID19 app on it and you will not be able to delete it?

Whether it will be convenient for you to have the app or if it just comes with your phone or next system update, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you won’t be able to go about your life without constantly proving your quarantine status. Maybe even police officers will have the power to look at your phone when you’re outside. Kind of like a random stop and search. This happens on daily basis to every Chinese citizen. Everywhere they go. Phone checking by the authorities multiple times a day. If you want to learn more about the Chinese social score, I suggest using your search engine, preferably different to Google, to look it up. Some people have to scan their face to be let out of their gated housing. You might think this is great technology but what if you are asked to stay at home for 2 weeks but think this is bollox and want to get on with your life, go for a run or exercise? In a system like in China, the camera controlling your gate would refuse to open it for you.

Convenience VS Freedom

One thing that is really bugging me as I write this, is what about the old people? Old people who don’t have a smartphone? See, all this time, throughout the lockdown we have been reminded over and over again, to think about the old people and their safety. Even if our approach to the tracking and tracing doesn’t turn out to be as harsh and tyrannical as in China, the old people without smartphones will still be left out. Not only from tracking and tracing but also from participating in their social life. They won’t be notified that someone next to them on the train tested positive. They also won’t be able to enjoy a movie in the cinema without a smartphone. What about the old people then?

Unless… unless it was never about them. If it was, then we would create a system that protects them. Instead we put everyone on house arrest. Instead we create tracing system that will leave a lot of them to fend for themselves until they die. Maybe that is the whole point? They will die within the next 10 to 20 years and will be replaced with generations raised with smartphones. Let’s think about it. They created this illusion that we have to protect the elderly. They have shamed everyone who opposed the lockdown so that we can just sleepwalk into this tracking and tracing future still believing we are helping. But I ask, how does this system help older people or people without smartphones in general? If they aren’t able to confirm they aren’t ill or ordered to self – isolate, they won’t be allowed to go to the cinema, a restaurant, maybe even hospital or get an uber, definitely not on the plane, but who cares, right? They will die soon and their old brick mobile phones along with them. Their fragile final years on this planet have been weaponized against us and taken away from them at the same time. Maybe protecting them was never the plan. After all they already suffer from other illnesses and life-threatening health conditions and haven’t been able to get any appointments throughout this lockdown. Some of them didn’t even want to see their doctors because they were scared of catching the virus or they didn’t want to be an inconvenience for the busy medical staff.

What about them?

The way I see the tracking system is this. It relies on people having smartphones or being accurate and honest about places they’ve been and people they’ve seen. What if a husband or wife visit their lovers? They may not be willing to share that information but if it’s not up to them, they will get caught. Cheating might be immoral but it’s not illegal but a Contact Tracer has the power to end marriages or perhaps in the future even blackmail unfaithful spouses into giving up the details of their recent contacts while promising confidentiality. It may not even be a Contact Tracer anymore. Some other company might get hold of that sensitive information too. Unfaithful partners aside, it looks to me like this tracking system is designed to control the population and not isolate people who are sick. Old people without smartphones will not have the app and will be left to die and live the rest of their days in fear of others. Their children and grand children will reduce visits to keep them alive without realising that staying alive is not living. While the people who contribute the least to the society, slowly die off of old age, neglected cancers and other diseases, loneliness and depression, the young and healthy workforce will remain under constant surveillance. Their privacy taken away along with their freedom of movement and right to take risk. All that will be taken while they are distracted by the illusion of having a choice. And this is only a beginning.

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