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Earlier today it was revealed that some 15,841 coronavirus cases, spanning an entire week from September 25th to October 2nd, were not recorded by the government’s Test and Trace system.
The mistake – which means thousands of potentially infected contacts are now roaming around the country completely unaware of their status – has sparked a furious row between Public Health England and the government’s so-called “Testing Tsar“, Dido Harding.
However, it is not the row causing public concern – it is the extraordinarily simple reason behind the government’s latest blunder.
Yes, despite allocating an astonishing £10bn to set up and run what Boris Johnson said would be a “world-beating” test and trace system, the error was caused by the fact that the people running the system don’t appear to have any knowledge as to how Microsoft Excel works.
According to the Daily Mail, the cases were missed because the system’s auto-updating Excel spreadsheet had reached its maximum size – meaning no more cases could be added.
According to the Microsoft website, the total number of columns that can be recorded on any single spreadsheet is 16,384 – a fact that any GCSE-level IT student would be expected to know when troubleshooting a problem.
Responding to the situation, the Work and Pensions Secretary admitted that countless Brits “may well” have been infected because of the error.
The glitch has now been resolved after some absolute genius finally realised they needed to have more than one spreadsheet.
Unsurprisingly, many – including numerous normally pro-Tory media commentators – were quick to ridicule Boris Johnson’s government over their latest, and possibly most ridiculous, demonstration of deadly incompetence:
Love the fact the Tory 'world beating' testing system was an excel document they broke. I'm sure it's a beautiful metaphor for their incompetence but we are all so tired.
— TechnicallyRon (@TechnicallyRon) October 5, 2020
People will die because the government lacks the expertise to add rows on excel but remember any second wave is your fault
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) October 5, 2020
From the people who brought you “if you leave your house with coronavirus we will fine you £10,000” we bring you “we lost 16,000 positive tests and haven’t traced their contacts, endangering countless lives. Oopsy poopsy, there will be no consequences.”
— James Felton (@JimMFelton) October 5, 2020
Using a spreadsheet for a database application is not a "technical glitch" … it's weapons grade incompetence. They tried to use Excel to administer Covid testing results. Dido Harding should (again) be sacked for this. https://t.co/EgEtnWrvbh
— John Spiers (@squeezyjohn) October 5, 2020
The 'world beating' Serco Test and Trace system is being run on Excel instead of database software – which has caused the latest issues.
Next they'll tell us it's run on Windows 95 and they manually back it up on floppy disks each night.
— Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (@DrRosena) October 5, 2020
The last thing the government saw before 16,000 coronavirus cases were deleted from their big Excel spreadsheet pic.twitter.com/zsGG8qsgpw
— Adam Smith (@adamndsmith) October 5, 2020
A council official writes: "This is intergalactic level incompetence. Excel isn't secure for the storage of personal data. And to think the months of arguments we went through for public health to get data access and the data protection agreements we had to sign 1/
— Jennifer Williams (@JenWilliamsMEN) October 5, 2020
So the Superforecasters can't even manage an Excel spreadsheet.
— (((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges) October 5, 2020
Twelve billion pounds was spent on the Track + Trace system. TWELVE BILLION POUNDS. Of our money.
And they spent it on an Excel spreadsheet that wasn't big enough. You really couldn't make this stuff up. Heads have got to roll.
— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) October 5, 2020
Boris Johnson’s government have proved time and time again that they couldn’t pour p*ss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.
Test and Trace has been an unmitigated disaster since day one – and, despite the likes of Cuba and Vietnam having had fully functioning systems in place for months (added to far better Coronavirus statistics than our own), the Tories have still not managed to figure out how to get ours up and running properly.
More than 40,000 Brits have already died, and unless the government can pull their finger out and get Test and Trace functioning, the UK may well be forced into another full lockdown in order to halt the current steady rise in cases.
However, with the government continuing to simply dish out multi-million pound contracts to their party donors rather than the most qualified people for the job, I wouldn’t hold out much hope that things are about to improve any time soon.