Published 7 May 2020
Earlier this week, we asked people about the expected pace of lockdown lifting. Responses are shown below with a line of best fit in the middle. This suggests that we aren’t expecting to be halfway back to pre-Covid economic freedoms until September, and restrictions may persist for months. Only 1 in 5 people thought that we would be back to normal by April 2021, although generally it seems like no one really knows.
So how might the lifting of lockdown be managed?
One essential tool is contact tracing, which is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight. But this will only be enough to help stop the virus spread if take-up is colossal – up to 80% of smartphone users according to one estimate.
Current public attitude towards contact tracing suggests achieving high take up will be hard.
Our analysis of Twitter sentiment towards "contact tracing" and the "lockdown" and saw very different patterns. The lockdown is associated with the health impact of Covid-19 and NHS workers (“death”, “support”, “love”). Contact tracing, by contrast, attracts discussion of privacy issues rather than health benefits (“concern”, “trust”, “protect”).
The NHS has previously struggled with getting the balance right between using data for public good and protecting against privacy concerns. Never has this been more important than it is now, and whether through Twitter sentiment or news coverage, the sense is that people are uncomfortable with how their data is being used.
Without overcoming these challenges, we will lose a potentially valuable tool in fighting the pandemic, and may have to be comfortable with lockdown restrictions for longer than expected. Or face the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 damaging lives as well as livelihoods.