Non-Radio – False Pings – Using Bluetooth for the Wrong Purposes

The XYL made an elder-care trip to England the moment the travel rules relaxed.  The ten-day isolation quarantine had been dropped for fully vaccinated Americans (she is a dual-citizen) though the testing and administrative burdens carried on.

What was extortionary was a phone call from her old school friend who had hosted my XYL her last four days, telling Alison that her hosting friend had been “pinged” by the NHS (National Health Service) application for a claimed close-contact with someone later reported as positive during my wife’s stay.

As they had been paying particular attention to maintain social distancing and a quick check of everyone they had been in contact with revealed nobody willing to share that they had tested positive recently, much head scratching has ensued.

Consulting with an expert in medical hygiene, we learned that England was suffering under a “Ping Epidemic” as the NHS app used Bluetooth technology as the basis of establishing a close contact.

The NHS has admitted that the sensitivity of Bluetooth in practice is greater than the specified, with the Bluetooth contact tracing software unaware if the “holders of the phones” were even in the same space with each other, and that upwards of 80% of contact Pings could be in error!

Until August 16th a Ping sent you off to isolation-quarantine for 10 days, along with testing.

As the NHS admission multiplied by some 600,000 Pings a week at the peak resulted in an excess loss of available labor of nearly 5 million days of false-Ping quarantine, the economic effects of a misuse of Bluetooth was huge.  To put this in perspective this is like sidelining some 13,000 people for a whole year, every week, because the App was too sensitive.

Recognizing the problems the NHS App was adjusted and the rule for a vaccinated person relaxed to self-monitoring and testing.

Now my wife did not get Pinged.  Why?  Because her main iPhone remained on the USA system and her UK iPhone SIM card had expired, so she was exempted from the NHS App when she entered.

As the woman did swim at the local sports centre, where their phones laid in the lockers for the period of their socially-distanced and managed swim session they had booked, our expert suggests that another person’s phone, who later was reported as positive, whether in their locker room, and adjacent area (like Men’s or Family Locker Rooms, or the Staff Room) was the Bluetooth through-the-wall reason for the later Ping.  Apparently the phones need to be in proximity for at least 15 minutes.

Out of an abundance of caution the XYL added to her virus tests a few more tests, which were negative.

Some tidbits:

  • USA – Fully Vaccinated is UK – Double Vaccinated, as one-shot vaccines are not in widespread use in the UK
  • Alison’s travel involved several Apps, with things that had to happen in certain windows of time – Goldilocks sort of “not too early” “not too late” “just right” sorts of timing needs, broke down in process and in the VeriFly App simply could not be made to work.
  • Expectations are that you have your trip very well planned and can provide an address for each day of your trip.
  • Being without a UK phone at entry was actually helpful, as being under the radar when the system is itself not working well is okay.
  • The UK tests add up, figure $150-200 per test, and presently you need at least two UK side.
  • While you only need on USA test before you go, be prepared to do more on return if you get Pinged.
  • It is useful to have someone not traveling deal with some of the documentation, as  the UK tests come password protected and the USA tests in our case come virtually to a secure medical patient system. Extracting these reports and putting them into a shared folder was helpful.
  • Have printouts of everything, as the bowels of airports are not always good cellphone or internet locations.

Hopefully we will learn from the mistakes of Bluetooth tracking (false positives and non-tracked persons) and other technology based systems.



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