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Fake news, vaccines and algorithms

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6 mins read

If the chaos surrounding tests to circumvent the lockdown in Limassol and Paphos is anything go by then be assured the rollout of a COVID vaccine will be rougher than a Viking raiding party.

Admittedly, the government put its hand up to say it underestimated the number of workers needing a test to travel to, from or between Limassol and Paphos during the local lockdown.

The test has a duration of seven days, but the latest ones fall short of the lockdown expiry date of 30 November.

It is unclear whether those workers need to go through the same horror queues again or if the lockdown will cease at the end of the month.

How allowing hundreds of people to queue in long lines where social distancing is impossible, helps contain the virus is a mystery.

What’s the point of having local lockdowns if large crowds are allowed to gather in public where people are close to each other?

Roadblocks were also part of the travel ban, but here again, the Justice Minister had to intervene to instruct police to carry random checks, not to search every vehicle.

Stopping people travelling between towns is a tough ask when half the island is free to move around, and they are interconnected.

The amount of time and energy spent on trying to get people tested for a ban lasting less than a month seems skewed.

These tests could have been directed at those most at risk, such as care homes, frontline workers, schools, vulnerable groups.

I know schemes are covering these areas. There could be a more targeted approach without inconveniencing the public beyond reason.

Lockdowns, curfews, and travel bans only work if the public buys into them and understand their purpose.

Raw data issued daily has no details on how the virus is behaving or where the spikes in transmission are coming from and why.

Cyprus has yet to enter the height of the flu season and here again, there are complaints that not enough jabs were ordered.

Doctors are saying that not everyone who needs a flu jab will get one due to the shortage.

This does not bode well for how the government will roll out the COVID vaccine when it comes.

Although ideally, everyone should be vaccinated, this will not be possible as Cyprus will not get its full complement due to demand outstripping the capacity of supply.

It is also not clear who is in the front row to get vaccinated first.

Will it be the elderly, care home residents, hospital staff and other frontline workers?

The Health Ministry said last week that it has already drafted a plan for the biggest vaccination operation the country has ever seen.

It said scientists have helped them draw up a strategy of the priority groups to be vaccinated first.

Bingo

Those who receive the vaccine will be determined by an algorithm.

This already sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, especially as algorithms tend to miscalculate the obvious.

Such systems also rely on the expertise of the people using them and the standard of computer technology.

Otherwise, it’s just playing bingo with peoples’ lives.

And you can’t have a vaccine these days without it being accompanied by a conspiracy theory about its potential harm regardless of the evidence.

The COVID vaccine is hailed as the saviour of mankind.

Although you can bet your last €5 that a Facebook page is created calling it fake news or downright dangerous.

You might even get protests on the street linking the new vaccine to 5G health risks and climate change.

Things could go to the other extreme with people rioting to get their hands on the wonder drug.

Whichever way you slice it, the coming of the vaccine will be a journey of trial and error while Cyprus tries to muddle its way through the second wave in the hope there won’t be a third.

Nicosia has ordered 600,000 doses from AstraZeneca, 200,000 from Johnson & Johnson and 200,000 from Pfizer / BioNTech.

Cyprus will receive vaccine quantities according to its population at the same time as the rest of the EU.

In the best-case scenario, Cyprus can expect its first batch of vaccines in February.

But there will be limited doses, meaning they have to get the distribution right from the off.

The Pfizer vaccine poses a logistical headache as it needs to be stored at super-low temperatures.

There is also the pressing question of whether the authorities have enough personnel and vaccine centres to ensure the effective rollout of the vaccinations.

Time for us all to roll our sleeves up and look away…now.