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Monday 5 October 2020

Covid Test Farce - Let’s Blame Microsoft

A bad workman, so the saying goes, always blames his tools. And the bad Government workman always blames not only his tools, but also anyone other than himself. So it has been that the mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic by alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and the likes of chief Downing Street polecat Dominic Cummings is not their fault. Or Matt Hancock’s. Honestly.

So it has also been with test results: over the weekend, several thousand positive test results were miraculously discovered; added to those already known, the numbers assumed eye-watering proportions. But who would carry the can? Public Health England was to be broken up, it couldn’t be dumped on members of SAGE, and no-one in Government was going to step forward and own the farce. So it had to be someone else.

And the Mail’s website told us who, or what, would be carrying this particular can. “A furious blame game is under way today after 16,000 coronavirus cases were missed due to a computer glitch - meaning thousands more potentially infected contacts were not traced. The extraordinary meltdown is believed to have been caused by an Excel spreadsheet containing lab results reaching its maximum size, and failing to update”.

Ho yus. Do go on. “Some 15,841 cases between September 25 and October 2 were not uploaded to the government dashboard … Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey conceded this morning that more Britons 'may well' have been infected due to the blunder”. But it wasn’t her fault: the bodyswerve had already been made.

The shambolic situation sparked an immediate backlash against PHE - which is already set to be abolished and replaced by the government - with claims 'everything it touches turns to sh**’ … But the body hit back by pointing the finger at the Test & Trace operation, run by Baroness Dido Harding. 'We report the data when they send it. We didn't get it,' one official told Sky News”. As the dust clears … hey, it’s Dido Harding again!

So what is the high tech solution to this problem? “The technical issue has now been resolved by splitting the Excel files into batches”. Christ on a bike, this is amateurish. You’re going to add tens of thousands of records to an Excel spreadsheet, you make sure you know (a) the maximum dimensions of an Excel spreadsheet, and (b) start a new one when you get within sight of those maximum dimensions. Also, many test results DID get through. Had the spreadsheet been full, they would not have been notified.

Another thought enters: Test and Trace has already eaten up a significantly-sized pile of money which has been ponied up mainly by We The People. So it would be nice if someone in Government would care to explain how all the millions, nay, billions got sprayed up the wall if the only software holding it all together is a copy of Excel.

Meanwhile, Labour’s Jon Ashworth has said “Matt Hancock should come to the House of Commons on Monday to explain what on earth has happened, what impact it has had on our ability to contain this virus and what he plans to do to fix test and trace”.

So that won’t be happening, either. Bad Tory workmen blame tools no shock horror.

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Andy McDonald said...

For crying out loud, they expect us to believe that nobody involved had the wit to OPEN ANOTHER TAB? And why Excel, when you'd need a tracking database? Access at the very least, many others are available.

It used to be said that for a certain social class, it was enough to know that things worked, not how they worked. Looks like that needs updating.

Arnold said...

I've heard a more plausible explanation that a manual transfer of data to another computer.
An Excel spreadsheet has over 16m cells, and the max size of an Excel file 8gb [Citation needed]. More than enough to record daily infection figures. Possibly not enough for track and trace.

Anonymous said...

It was an "accident".

Of course it was.

An "accident" that lowered the figures.

Ho yus indeed.

Anonymous said...

Probably just more bullshitting - make it look like some nerd made a cock-up on his laptop rather than it was a sneaky way of trying to manipulate the figures.

Do you remember last week when we were getting large increases in NI, Scotland, Wales and Universities but mysteriously the UK's case numbers stayed at around the 6500-7000 level? This was accompanied by a raft of articles about how things are 'levelling off' which made it look like the half-assed measures from the gov were going to save us from a second lockdown?

They'll most likely pull a reverse cock-up this week - announce huge increases for a few days then be back to 6000 just in time for favourable coverage and the Tory press telling us we're sorted.

Arnold said...

Nothing to do with Excel. Unsurprisingly the Mail was wrong.

One PHE official admitted that it was behind the error, saying: “It’s an IT issue involving data being transferred from one system onto another one. It’s entirely PHE’s fault. It’s our bit of the process.


david walsh said...

Par for the course in a low tech, historically underfunded NHS. Data would originally have been generated by CCG's and individual hospital trusts running on software long ago forgotten by the rest of humanity. According to pre Covid government figures, of the 1.37 million PCs and laptops used in the NHS, at least 463,784 are still running Windows 7 with little or no remaining support by Microsoft.

Anonymous said...

Willie "fucking" Carson strikes again.

Anonymous said...

What is particularly amusing is that this govt and its pals reckon they are "data gurus" and know data science better than anyone else (see D. Cummings for details). Even the most junior data scientist would tell you how inappropriate Excel is for any sort of data manipulation once you get past 1000 rows!

Unknown said...

Cos excel has a lovely easy "convert from CSV" dialogue in the file menu. Perfect for incompetents to look clever with...

Andrew Barker said...

How pathetic this is. Anyone who knows anything about large data sets knows that Excel is not an appropriate application. When I worked with data over 10 years ago, we used database systems such as SAS to analyse and to provide summary data. When you think of the millions of pounds that have been wasted on test & trace you'd think they could have spent a few more thousand pounds to buy a decent PC, a decent database system, and a few experts who know how to use this stuff.