The government has asked all four major UK operators to send text messages to their customers, containing information about the new measures designed to tackle the spread of coronavirus.
Starting today, every mobile phone owner in the country will receive an alert (pictrued below) informing them about the restrictions on movement and gathering announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night.
In a televised address, Johnson ordered the public to stay at home other than to shop for “essentials” or for exercise “once a day”. Groups of more than two participants, other than those who live together or families, will be dispersed by the police and offenders fined.
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Some users on Twitter said they had already received the message which reads: “GOV.UK CORONAVIRUS ALERT. New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More info and exemptions at gov.uk/coronavirus Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.”
The government has had to enlist the support of operators to send the messages because it lacks the capability to do it itself. Despite trials of an emergency warning system earlier in the decade, the system has never been implemented.
Critics have argued that the absence of a direct communication method has facilitated mixed messages from ministers on television and allowed misinformation to spread on social media. This contrasts with other countries, like South Korea, which have used alerts to issue advice and warnings throughout the crisis.
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. This information would allow ministers to better understand the movements of individuals during the lockdown and tailor efforts to prevent the spread.
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