Jersey could have a contact tracing app within “weeks” if certain hurdles can be overcome – but customer-facing businesses are being urged to help out by keeping ‘attendance records’ until then.
Speaking at a live media briefing yesterday, the Chief Minister described keeping a list of customers and when they come in as part of businesses’ “community responsibility” now that they have been allowed to reopen as the island enters ‘Level Two’ lockdown today.
If any of those customers gets the virus, the government’s 55-strong contact tracing team would then use that list to trace anyone else who may have been infected.
News of businesses being asked to manually log this data comes despite assurances more than a month ago that the government was looking at a contact tracing app solution.
Video: How contract tracing apps work. (YouTube/TLDR News)
The apps, which need to used by the majority of the population to be effective, record proximity with other app users and anonymously record that contact within a database.
If an individual is later diagnosed with covid-19, the app will then alert those who have been in close proximity to them, warning them to self-isolate as soon as possible.
Officials told Express four weeks ago that the government was weighing up apps developed by the NHS, Apple and Google - something which could be key in opening up travel with the UK.
When Express asked why the government now appeared to be adopting a manual solution by enlisting the help of food and drink outlets, as well as other customer-facing businesses, the Chief Minister admitted to delays with securing an app.
Pictured: Coffee shops and restaurants are among those being advised to take customers' details.
“There are some issues around the contact tracing app, which hopefully will be resolved within the next few weeks,” Senator Le Fondré explained.
These, he said, predominantly related to whether there should be a centralised database of individuals. The Chief Minister added that the government’s preference would be not to have one, and that they were closely examining “what the likes of Google and Apple are producing”.
He continued: “We are starting to coalesce down to a position, but we are not yet there and that contact tracing app is quite important how you then start again beefing up the tracing measures we’ve got in place… We already have a contact tracing team doing manual tracing of 55 people.
“When it comes down to it, we can talk about the bureaucratic side of things, but what we’re trying to do is make it easier for businesses to open and, as part of that community responsibility, can you keep a list of who your customers are when they come in?
“That’s part of the consequences that were in the process that we’ve had to take because, essentially, in the event that you do find someone that has… got the virus and has gone into ‘Restaurant X’, we need to establish easily and quickly from a contact tracing point of view where that’s gone. The whole contact tracing is one of the elements – not the only element – of having a really robust system over here to deal with covid going forward.”
Pictured: Some businesses suggested the logging attendance was a layer of bureaucracy - but the Chief Minister said they should see it as their "community responsibility".
There are specific rules relating to the collection, holding and deletion of data, particularly when this is on behalf of a third party – in this case, the government.
The Deputy Data Protection Commissioner Paul Vane explained that businesses will have to be very clear about the “lawful basis” on which they are holding the information and the conditions attached to that.
He told Express that he had only recently been made aware of the idea, and would be discussing the hurdles the request throws up further with the government.
Despite this, when Express asked the Chief Minister and Economic Development Minister about this yesterday, they suggested there was no difference between their request and hotels and restaurants collecting information for reservation purposes.
Economic Development Minister, Senator Farnham, commented: “I don’t think this is a great burden for businesses - we’re simply asking that businesses or restaurants take a name and a phone number. The track and trace element of how we’ve been containing the virus has been incredibly important to the success we’ve had in almost eliminating it locally.
“Most clients and restaurants are happy to leave details because they make reservations and leave their phone details anyway, so we’re just advising as a bit of a safety net that if there were to be a case in a restaurant that we can quickly track and trace those that might have been in the vicinity and all act accordingly.”
Pictured: The Economic Development Minister said the data protection watchdog should take a "pragmatic approach", given the information could be "life-saving".
When pressed on how this would fit into data protection legislation, the Minister added he expected the Office of the Information Commissioner would be “taking a very pragmatic approach to this use of data given the unique benefit and the potential life-saving element of it should it need to be used.
“I’d like to reassure businesses that there’s no data protection issue with this simple process that we’re recommending.”
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