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Government should have used technology to ‘target’ groups with tailored messages

The UK government should have used technology to send tailored messages to groups rather than send a single blanket text message to everyone, experts say.

On Tuesday the government worked with mobile carriers to send a text message urging them to ‘stay at home’ to all mobile phones in the country. 

Specialists in global critical event management, Everbridge, say it would have been a much more effective approach to get the message to people. 

The government had to ask the mobile carriers to send the message as it doesn’t have a dedicated emergency alert system in place – unlike other countries. 

Everbridge say even using the carriers the government could have used the service more effectively to keep the public updated than they did. 

Javier Colado, Everbridge’s Head of International, said despite the issues surrounding the single message, it was a long overdue step forward in the fight against COVID-19.

‘Other countries around the world have been using mobile alerting, apps and online updates since the pandemic began,’ Colado said.

‘Mobile technology has much more to offer than a single blast to everyone – technology exists to target people specifically.’

He said this could include sending specific texts to those at risk due to their geographic locations – such as in major cities.

It could even involve sending messages to those in public areas – telling them they should be paying attention to the ‘stay at home’ message. 

Colado said there is technology that could allow the government to establish two-way communication via text with the most vulnerable citizens.

The Prime Minister’s shutdown will last for a minimum of three weeks and the UK’s new state of emergency is unprecedented in modern history.

Gatherings of more than two people will be banned in the most dramatic curbs on freedom ever seen in Britain in time of peace or war, as the government goes all out to stop the spread of the killer disease, which has claimed 335 lives. 

The message being restates the government’s coronavirus slogan: ‘Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.’

The NHS has already sent messages to the most vulnerable people in the UK to urge them to stay inside for 12 weeks – up to 1.5 million people received those messages. 

The UK government doesn’t have emergency messaging facilities in place that allow it to send messages directly to the entire country.

One was trialled seven years ago by the government but never implemented.  

‘If it’s true that the government have been investigating this technology for years then they must know the capabilities of a mobile alerting system, so I would question what the delay has been to wider implementation,’ said Colado.

‘Perhaps we will see further embracing of technological solutions as the coronavirus impact worsens but I hope the Government doesn’t take too long to use technology that could help save lives.’

In South Korea they have made aggressive use of emergency alerts which some have credited with their relatively low infection rates. 

In the Netherlands politicians used the NL-Alert system to urge people to avoid congregating after it looked like they were flouting social distancing rules. 

The PM was finally forced into the draconian move amid fury that many people are still flouting ‘social distancing’ guidance, with parks and Tube trains in London – regarded as the engine of the UK outbreak – still busy despite repeated pleas.

‘Though huge numbers are complying – and I thank you all – the time has now come for us all to do more,’ Mr Johnson said.

‘From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.

‘Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.’

Ministers have agreed a deal with phone operators to send the alert carrying Boris Johnson’s warning to every mobile in the country

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