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I’ve traveled in and out of England a number of times in the past few months and each time I’ve entered the country I’ve been contacted by England’s NHS Test & Trace team who want to check that I’m self-isolating as required. I have no problem with this, but having now had quite a bit of experience with the Test & Trace team, I can’t help but wonder if there’s any point to the operation.
A Bit Of Background
Before being allowed to travel to England, all passengers are required to fill in a “passenger locator form” in which a traveler has to confirm their personal details as well as declaring a number of key things. Specifically, some of the key things that a traveler has to declare are the following:
- Their vaccination status
- Their date of arrival into the country
- Where they’re traveling from
- Whether they’re required to self-isolate upon arrival
- Whether they will be making the most of the “test to release” program
- Which testing provider they will be using for any COVID tests that they’re required to take following their arrival (a reference number from that provider is required to prove that the tests have been booked)
- Where they will be staying for the first 10 days of their trip
The local authorities then provide some (possibly all) of this information to the NHS Test & Trace team who then use it to carry out checks on people who have recently arrived in the country.
Supposedly, home visits can be carried out to check that someone is self-isolating as required, but the overwhelming majority of checks are carried out over the phone and this is where my problem with the system starts.
What’s The Point?
Aside from the fact that a significant number of phone agents who ‘Test & Trace’ uses to check up on new arrivals have poor English language skills and very strong accents (I have no idea how non-native English speakers are meant to understand them) and the fact that at least one manager at the Test & Trace team has no idea of the rules, I have one big issue with the ‘Test & Trace’ system for travelers – it doesn’t seem fit for purpose.
In recent months, I have made sure that I’ve self-isolated for the required number of days every time I’ve entered the UK and on each visit, I have been contacted (via phone call) by the NHS Test & Trace team every day that I’ve been required to self-isolate.
On each occasion, I’ve had the same script read out to me as the agent checks that I haven’t forgotten the rules that I was reminded of in the calls I’d received in the preceding days, and that I understand all the testing requirements that I had already confirmed that I understood on each previous call. This is tedious, but I understand that the agents are just doing their job so I don’t have a particular issue with it.
What I *do* have an issue with is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any fallout if a person being contacted doesn’t answer their phone.
Over a period of a number of trips, I’ve missed 3 or 4 calls from the Test & Trace team thanks to things like forgetting that my phone was on silent, not hearing the phone ringing because I had music playing, or simply because I was in the shower. On each occasion, all that happened was that I was left a message letting me know that I had been contacted by the Test & Trace team and that I would be called again the next day.
At no point have I ever had a second call on a day when I missed the first call, on no occasion has any agent ever queried why I hadn’t been available to take any of the calls that I had missed, and on no occasion has anyone shown up on my doorstep to check that I am where I claim to be.
All of this leads me to wonder how this system is giving anyone any assurance whatsoever?
Unless the authorities are somehow tracking my whereabouts by using a signal from my mobile phone (which I think may be illegal), they cannot possibly be getting any meaningful level of assurance that I’m keeping to the rules. Moreover, if the authorities don’t really have any assurance that I’m keeping to the rules, they probably don’t have any assurance over the behavior of everyone else that’s arriving into the country on a daily basis.
So, if the Test & Trace program (for travelers) isn’t really providing anyone with a meaningful level of assurance, what’s the point of its existence?
This is a genuine question that I hope someone can help me with because as things stand, the whole thing just looks like a very expensive bit of COVID theatre to me and I’m sure that the cash that’s being used to run this apparently pointless operation could be used much better elsewhere (paying nurses a decent salary would be a start!)
I’d really love to find out that the Test & Trace system is actually very good at making sure that people entering England are abiding by the rules and that it’s great at catching out those who don’t care about the well-being of others, but I simply can’t see how this can be the case.
I’m not suggesting that I have a better solution for tracking the behavior of new arrivals into the UK (I don’t), but I am suggesting that if the program really isn’t doing very much then questions have to be asked why taxpayer money is being used to fund it when the cash can be used much better elsewhere.
Can anyone tell me if I’m missing something and, if I am, what exactly it is that I’m missing?