Government sends out ‘stay at home’ text messages as coronavirus lockdown begins

25 Mars, 2020, 13:38 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau

It's the first time all United Kingdom carriers have been instructed to send a message to customers on behalf of the government.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put Britain on lockdown on Monday evening as he outlined strict new measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, ordering people to only leave the house for a few specific reasons. All non-essential shops including clothing stores, libraries and electronic shops have been ordered to close.

"The most urgent message that we're getting for people to stay home is to stay home if you're sick", he said.

Mobile operators have already zero-rated access to NHS Online information and are in talks with the government about providing access to anonymised location data.

However, the message could have been sent to some 60 million phones directly from the government if it had followed up on its own findings.

"GOV.UK CORONAVIRUS ALERT", the BBC reported the message as reading. More info and exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus Stay at home. "Protect the NHS. Save lives".

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Some customers have already received the message, while others are set to get it later in the day. "That is the most important urgent message".

Because the United Kingdom does not have an emergency alert system, network operators are sending out the text on behalf of the Government, resulting in it arriving at different times.

Seven-years-ago, the UK Cabinet Office conducted a successful trial of an emergency alert system, but in the following years, there have been no further signs of development. Harris told the "It's fallen between government departments as to who is going to pick up the bill, who's going to lead on it, and all sorts of issues", implying that a fight over budgets and responsibility has led to the United Kingdom not having this incredibly important system in place for a time of crisis.

If it had been, the government could have bypassed the operators and sent messages directly to phone users, as has happened in countries such as South Korea and the Netherlands.

The second alert was a SMS message sent to affected citizens.

The issue poses a challenge to the government if it intends to continue using text alerts as a means to communicate its advice.

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