Although government agencies are using technology to their advantage to track cases and control the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) pandemic, much work is still done manually and the process as a whole ends up being susceptible to errors. And it was one of those silly errors that ended up “hiding” about 16 thousand infected by the virus in England – and the fault may have been a technical limitation in Microsoft Excel.
According to The Guardian, Public Health England (PHE) is the entity responsible for managing COVID-19’s national tracking program, operating the country’s official application and receiving positive test results private laboratories. However, each laboratory has its own testing methods – some even register cases with paper and pen.
The problem is that one of these partners sent PHE a table in the raw CSV format (in which the different values are separated by commas) and analysts imported such data into Excel, which has the limitation 1,048,576 lines – in the most recent versions – or just 65,536 – in the older editions, which is the one used in the case of the British organ. In any case, by opening the table, the government ended up cutting “some” cases from its census.
The problem has now been solved and the correct case count has been updated; however, the non-registration of these almost 16 thousand active cases may have put another 50 thousand citizens in danger, as the national tracking app did not alert that these people were close to someone infected with the new coronavirus.
Remember that this is not the first time that Excel causes serious problems because, say, it is used for more specific purposes than it was designed for. In 2013, a similar limitation caused the banking company JPMorgan Chase & Co. to “not notice” a loss of almost $ 6 billion.
Source: The Guardian
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