Minju Jung By: Minju Jung
Doctoral Researcher in Politics and International Relations
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30 May 2020 : Immoral Behaviour in the Pandemic and the Incompetence of the NHS Test and Trace Service

I work as an invigilator during exam periods at my University. I help students take an exam smoothly without disturbances. I provide them with information and guidance, extra papers and stationeries while they’re taking the exam. One of my duties is to prevent students from committing immoral behaviour at an exam site, i.e. cheating. We provide students with training regarding the negative consequence of cheating to encourage them not to cheat.

Students cheat for various reasons such as personal-satisfaction, a requirement for a scholarship. Otherwise, it can be an impulse caused by intensive tension or even a habit. We, invigilators, provide them with institutional support to deter them from cheating. We check their IDs and belongings, ask them to turn off their cell-phones during the exam, maintain enough space between desks, and monitor their behaviours. If a student is detected to try to cheat, we may stay longer around his/her side by walking slowly and quietly. By doing so, we set the scene to deter the students from cheating. 

Most immoral behaviours are addressed by putting civic and ethical responsibilities on individuals. However, some immoral actions may cause severe consequences in a particular situation, such as this pandemic. People are likely to behave responsibly in a pandemic, but they might behave immorally for various reasons. Even worse, as we witnessed in the Cummings’s case, when someone’s immoral action is combined with his/her arrogance, it may cause a massive social cost in a pandemic, i.e. social unrest and the spreading of a virus. Therefore, institutional support should be provided. The system should be robust enough to prevent immoral behaviours.

The UK is starting to ease the lockdown. Next Monday, kids will go back to school; up to six people may hang out in a private outdoor space; and outdoor shops will be reopened. ‘Happy Monday’ was seen on the headlines of a few newspapers (On June 15, the day when non-essential shops and secondary schools are due to reopen, they may headline their first pages like ‘Super Monday’).

However, I envisage June 1st would be ‘Precarious Monday’, because the government does not seem to be ready to prevent a resurgence of the infection. The UK government has launched the NHS Test and Trace service to avoid a second peak. However, this system does not seem competent. For example, the government has said that they are confident in testing, whereas tests have been delayed so far today. There is a clear gap between what the government says in their daily briefing and what we face in reality. I have visited the webpage where we make an appointment for the antigen test to see how it works. It is mentioned on the webpage that they cannot guarantee people who wish to take the test to be able to take it soon. This is because ‘there is a very high demand for tests’, and the processing of the appointments is slow. They also say that they can send one household up to four kits only, because the number of kits is limited. So, it shows that the Test and Trace system may not work properly. Besides, the government has pretended that the NHS App for contact tracing is ready for the public, but the app has not been available so far. It means that the success of the tracing is entirely up to the contact tracers (We may need to begin ‘clap for testers and tracers’ soon).

Moreover, I am not sure if the NHS Test and Trace service is sufficiently well-established to avoid (or minimise) immoral behaviours. The immoral actions can happen, particularly, in the stages of contact tracing and isolation. The current system traces contacts on the basis of the response of the confirmed cases. It does not have additional measures to trace this contact, in case people lie to the contact tracer. 

Immoral behaviours in tracing can be seen when confirmed cases are uncooperative intentionally or unintentionally. On one hand, people, who are tested positive, may not be able to remember their routes and contacts. It is because they would have to remember what had happened many days ago (i.e. after contracting the virus: which may take at least 7 days to show symptoms, 1 day to make an appointment for the test, several days in waiting to take the test, finally, 2 or 3 days to get the test results). People may have difficulties to recollect the day when they may have contracted the virus. So, there may be gaps in the information that they provide.

On the other hand, people, who are tested positive, might be dishonest in revealing their contacts. They may lie to hide their religion or sexual identity or to avoid stigma from their family, friends or colleagues. Two events in South Korea show the consequence of the dishonesty of people. In March, Korea was hit by the virus because the members of a cult, who contracted the virus at a religious mass gathering, were uncooperative to the local CDC. It caused massive confusion in tracing contacts and a surge of COVID-19 cases. In May, clubbers who visited a gay club lied to contact tracers because they were reluctant to reveal their personal information, fearing social stigma. This increased the number of cases, and schools had to close again.

Immoral behaviours in isolation can be experienced when people who are ordered to self-isolate may be insincere in complying with it. People, who are tested positive or the close contacts of a confirmed case, may think that a short trip may be OK. They may leave home to take a walk, catch up with friends, or buy groceries. Even if the NHS regularly call them to see if they are under self-isolation, the people might lie to hide their breach. The current Test and Trace system seems incapable of dealing with these immoral actions. 

The government should develop institutional support to address the dishonesties and irresponsible behaviours in contact tracing and isolation. The NHS Test and Trace service is largely dependent on individuals’ civic duties and responsibilities and on the ability of the contact tracers to persuade a positive case to tell the truth. However, information, which is important to contact tracing, may be omitted because of either intentional or unintentional human error. The government should consider stronger measures like using personal information (details from credit card usage, cell phone, transportation card and CCTVs). In this regard, the public should also think seriously about how much privacy they are willing to give up for public health. For me, it is clear that to make contact tracing and isolation successful, privacy should be sacrificed to some extent.

The lockdown should be lifted when the government can handle the demands for the tests and has a well-established system to trace contacts and monitor self-isolations. While listening to Johnson arguing that the UK has fulfilled the five Tests so it can move forward, I felt like turning off the TV (I regret that I did not, so, I had to listen to how the PM handled the Cummings' row with the journalists. It was unpleasant). The fulfilment of the five Tests does not mean that the government is competent and its supporting system is robust enough to deal with a possible surge of cases post-lockdown.

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