Cllr Dave Stewart is the Leader of the Isle of Wight Council
The Isle Wight is leading the fight against COVID-19, and is proud of its role in trialling the new NHS track and trace app.
Many will have a vision of the Isle of Wight as a sleepy, safe, and beautiful location for a holiday, and for others, perhaps, the ideal location for retirement or a high-quality lifestyle – and indeed it is just that.
But, it is far more than that, with a thriving tourism economy, international businesses involved in aircraft manufacture, marine manufacture, and wind turbine production; and with high-tech industry supported by some of the fastest broadband provision in the world.
With its Conservative MP, Bob Seely, having one of the biggest majorities in the country, and with a Conservative-led Council bringing its sound financial management and innovative future regeneration plans into the community, success at the last local elections have proved to be well justified.
Then we were all hit with the ‘Coronavirus’ pandemic.
Just as elsewhere in the country, the impact of the arrival of this virus has been devastating for the Island. Ferries closed down, visitors rejected, community care homes ‘shielded’ for the safety of the residents, and an overall lockdown which has seen many Island businesses on the brink of bankruptcy, relying heavily on the support offered by the leadership of the local authority and the support of the local MP working under the Government Financial Package.
Yet, the Island is resilient, if not self-reliant in many areas. It has learned to be so because it is an Island. With a population of some 140,000 residents, public services have recognised the threat and have stepped up to provide essential support for our community. Indeed, we arguably now have one of the best community-led voluntary support structures in the country.
The Island then took another key step and actively offered to be the lead location for pioneering the introduction of a new Covid 19 ‘digital App’ capable of identifying people at risk and taking steps to ensure they and those around them can get the health support they need to be protected.
So how does it work?
Well, in simple terms, the app uses ‘Bluetooth’ technology on smartphones to inform users when they have been close to someone who has already identified themselves with symptoms and enables you to self-isolate and get tested.
This whole process takes just a few days, and if you are not infected, allows you to go back about your business and continue to stay safe. If you are infected, it enables the NHS to start a contact tracing process that will mean many others with whom a potentially infected person could have been in contact can be traced, warned, and protected.
Another key feature of the App is that it does not intrude on privacy with users just needing to give the first four letters of their postcode.
This is sufficient for it to operate through phone proximity only. So personal data and confidentiality is maintained. In fact, no personal data is shared unless and until an individual books a test through the NHS. The data then follows the normal NHS data management process.
But the secret to its success is the need for people to download the App in substantial numbers to give the best possible results. The professionals did not know for sure if the Island would adopt its use. But it did, and thousands of residents downloaded the App as soon as they were able to do so. 30,000 – critical mass already – on the first morning of the launch. As a result, the development and use of the App have a fantastic opportunity to be a success leading to a positive roll-out across the country.
The Islanders are acutely aware that they are part of a moment in history which has enabled ‘the Island to lead where the nation will follow.’ I am proud to have been the Leader of the Council at this time to witness and experience my community meeting the Coronavirus challenge and doing its part to support our nation.
The legacy of this app launch will be not only a sense of pride in the role we have played but also a real and practical boost to our ambitions to make the island the Silicon Valley of the South Coast – our Digital Island project is gathering momentum and will continue to do so, as we work in partnership with major global digital companies. Stuck in the 1950s? Definitely not!