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COVID-19 data that runs on Microsoft Excel goes Haywire



Excel Errors on Covid19 Data is alarming

With much data input, the situation calls for the pandemic; the UK went into a glitch fiasco, which resulted in almost 16,000 cases not being appropriately reported centrally. The cause of the glitch was found in the Microsoft Excel file, which houses the data. It crashed because the size was too large that it already reached its limit hence the failure to update. Public Health England claimed that 15,841 daily cases of COVID-19 between September 25 and October 2 were not included in the UK tally.

This incident poses an immediate threat and danger. Some of the people included in this data don’t have any idea that they could be carrying the virus and might still be wandering around and about, meeting other people, spreading the virus-like wildfire without them knowing.  

World-Beating System Backfired

We remember England’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing a world-beating contact tracing system last May, which entails diligent tracing procedure beefed up with a tracing app. Still, it seemed that this has boomeranged because of this mishap, which emerged just now.

British politician and doctor Rosena Allin-Khan tweeted that instead of running the tracing system on an actual database program, it runs using Microsoft Excel. Dr. Rosena even mocked on her tweet, saying that the government will soon reveal operating and running programs on Windows 95. Data are backed up every night on a floppy disk. Tweets in a similar vein blew up mocking the UK for this grave error that could prove to be a life and death situation.

10 Billion Budget for Excel?

UK’s government allotted a big chunk of its budget for its test and trace system in England, which amounts to 10 billion pounds. That is 100 times bigger than its annual public health budget, which sits at 90 million pounds. The fund mostly went into private firms that provide the service. To the dismay of its constituents, it is unacceptable that while they have spent that enormous amount of public funds, only to end up with a Microsoft product is not even a database tool ruining it all.

Now, contact tracers are grinding to catch up with all the necessary procedures that they need to do. PM Johnson claimed that all people who tested positive were already reached in the lost list.

Excel Errors

The Economist remembered reporting a similar incident where academic papers were jeopardized because of Excel’s limitation and the potential, although unintentional, manipulation, or omission of data could cause a significant problem. In this fiasco, we have learned that the appropriate system should be put in place, especially about a national crisis. A machine can only do so much, so the person behind it must be aware of its limitations as well.

An engineer by profession, a writer by calling.

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