The Handbook
The Handbook

Have you downloaded the NHS Covid-19 app? No? Then do, it could be the way out of this mess we’re all in. But the chances are that it won’t work and the government will pass over another opportunity to reverse the seemingly inevitable course of this pandemic. Although, if they’re smart, there is a simple and cheap way to make the app a resounding success…

Launching today, the covid tracking app arrives four months late, after much flip-flopping plus one of the government’s signature U-turns. After some wrangling the app now uses Apple and Android’s own system for monitoring and it’s apparently going to be effective at figuring out if you’ve been in close enough contact with someone carrying coronavirus, and will tell you to get a test (LOL) and isolate. As a bonus, you can now check into restaurants and cafes using a QR code within the app, which means you don’t need to fill in your details on a piece of A4 paper any more. Apart from that, it doesn’t do very much.

Which is all very well. We’re not looking for the next Angry Birds, ideally it will just sit in our pockets beaming out Bluetooth rays (are they rays?) without us even knowing about it until we’re finally ‘pung’ with a message ordering us to remain indoors for a fortnight or face a hefty fine. To be an effective defence you need around 80% of the public to be actively using the app on a day-to-day basis.

Except… the evidence from other countries is that this doesn’t happen. After an initial surge usership dwindles until it’s in the teens. And given the main news today will be the Chancellor’s new jobs scheme, even the initial surge is in doubt as the app is already at a serious PR disadvantage and won’t even be the lead item on any news report!

Which isn’t totally terrible, even limited usage can be enough to alert the government to potential new hotspots (perhaps a little late for that) and anyone who isolates as a result of a contact through the app is someone breaking the chain of transmission, which can save lives and can help flatten the curve of the virus’s spread. But it’s no silver bullet. Unless…

How about combining the app with a lottery? The main problem with the app is getting enough people using it to effectively protect the population, people download it then delete it, to free up space or because they don’t think they need it or that they’re in their 20s so invincible. Else people don’t download the app in the first place, or switch it off, because they’re afraid of being told to isolate and losing income. Or even they don’t have a phone with up-to-date software. Or whatever.

Over a six month period, the prize fund would be just £2.6m (the context here being a £10bn test and trace budget)...

But how about giving away a tax-free £100,000 per week to one lucky user, chosen at random?

Here’s how it would work, users download the app and to be eligible for the lottery they would have to opt to share their data with government (this is possible, though it’s not currently an option in the initial release). Assuming the user had the app switched on during the week they would be entered into that week’s lottery.

Over a six month period, the prize fund would be just £2.6m (the context here being a £10bn test and trace budget).

The lottery would ensure that everyone who possibly can will keep the app on at all times, because sadly the self interest of winning £100k is greater than our community spirit for stopping the spread of covid…

It would also be some much-needed good PR for the government, and falling usage could be reincentivised with roll-overs or local prizes to encourage users in certain demographics or locations to use the app if they weren’t…

There we go, not just a food, drink and travel magazine, a think tank too. Just mail us the consultancy fee, Dido…


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