People who test Covid negative should wear wristbands, says government’s nudge unit

Advisers say UK should learn from Slovakia and provide ‘easier recognition’ for Covid-free citizens

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 11 November 2020 10:13 GMT
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Mass coronavirus testing scheme getting under way in Liverpool

People in the UK who test negative for coronavirus should be given a wristband to help them identify themselves as Covid-free, a government advisory body has recommended.

Allowing citizens who display the wristband to move around more freely would help the country recover more quickly, according to the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) — the government-backed company known as the “nudge unit”.

In a new report, BIT said Boris Johnson’s government could learn lessons from Slovakia, where everyone who tests negative is given a paper certificate allowing them to escape restrictions.

The nudge unit said the UK could build on Slovakia’s success by giving out paper wristbands as well as certificates to allow for “easier recognition of whether they can enter venues”.

Around 3.6 million people in Slovakia were tested for Covid-19 during a single weekend as part of a major mass testing drive — allowing the authorities to identify over 38,000 new positive cases and ask them to quarantine.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said the pilot programme launched last week to test people across Liverpool would soon be rolled out to 67 local authorities in England.

Mr Johnson urged more people in the north-west city to get tested, after it emerged that only 23,000 people took part during the first three days of the pilot. The programme aims to test up to 50,000 people a day once fully operational, Liverpool’s director of public health Matt Ashton said.

The BIT report said one of the key lessons from Slovakia was that people must be given a “strong incentive to get tested” — such as giving them greater freedom from curbs on movement if they test negative.

Slovakians who tested negative were allowed to avoid strict lockdown rules by travelling freely to work, using shops and exercising outdoors. 

BIT policy adviser Kristina Londakova went to Slovakia to study the impact of the mass testing programme alongside William Warr, a health adviser to Mr Johnson.

Rapid testing pilot in Liverpool

The nudge unit, partly owned by the Cabinet Office, also recommended that the Queen and her family should be asked to encourage people to get tested.

“Enlist the Royal Family, the Cabinet, the Parliament, and local government as supporters of the project,” the BIT report recommended.

In July, BIT officials denied that the controversial idea the British public would suffer from “fatigue” if lockdown was brought in too early in March came from them.

In early March, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “There is a risk if we go too early people will understandably get fatigued and it will be difficult to sustain this over time.”

A nudge unit spokesperson said the team had “categorically never proposed or suggested behavioural fatigue with respect to Covid-19”.

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