Check-in data from millions of people who have visited cafés, pubs and restaurants has hardly been used by public health officials and contractors, the Guardian has learned.
As a legal condition introduced last month, venues were obliged to record customer details in an effort to remain Covid-secure but the government’s hamstrung test and trace scheme has appeared unable to cope with the swiftly rising number of coronavirus cases.
There are fears the apparent failure to use the data meant local outbreaks worsened when they could have been suppressed, but the hospitality sector has highlighted Public Health England data for the past week showing that venues had been linked to only 2.7% of new outbreaks.
If government public health officials believe a venue is linked to an outbreak they can request customer logs from the venue and send a “warn and inform” message to app users who attended the venue at a similar time based on when they checked-in. It was said to be separate from the general contact-tracing element of the app, which relates to individual cases of close contact.
The trade body Hospitality UK said a surveyof 568 businesses, covering 12,500 venues and 250 million customer visits, suggested 104 cases had been pursued since the summer reopening.
Airship, a data-processing business whose 340 clients include Wetherspoons, Costa and Pret a Manger, said it had registered more than 18m visits to 10,000 venues but only received up to 50 requests for data after venues were contacted by health officials.
“It seems there was never a system in place to use any of this data to try to stop the spread of the virus; it is a missed opportunity,” Airship’s chief executive, Dan Brookman, told the Times. “It seems to have been a box-ticking exercise, another piece of noise to give the impression that action was being taken, but actually no action followed.”
Wetherspoons, which has 850 pubs, reportedly had 35 of the requests for tracing information from local or national health officials. A spokesperson said: “Data is stored securely for a 21-day period in accordance with GDPR requirements and is then deleted. It is only disclosed to NHS test or trace or other statutory authorities on request.”
Wireless Social, whose clients include Fullers and Yo!, said it recorded more than 3m customers’ details but had received no requests for data – causing it to describe the track-and-trace system as “window dressing”.
The firm’s chief executive, Julian Ross, added: “I don’t believe they had an infrastructure in the background that was ready to process this data.”
The Guardian is in contact with another software developer who developed a secure solution for test and trace for a popular chain of bars, which has also received no requests.
While some venues demanded customers checked in upon arrival via QR-code, others have taken brief details via scraps of paper, and some have not taken any information.
The Hospitality UK CEO, Kate Nicholls, told the paper: “The limited amount of contact from health officials is proof that we are not the problem.”
The Department for Health and Social Care said: “Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors is vital to help NHS test and trace identify and contain clusters or outbreaks of Covid-19 linked to particular venues.”
“Since 11 September, businesses who are already using their own QR system have been asked to switch to the NHS test and trace QR codes compatible with the Covid-19 app. An alternative check-in method must be maintained to collect the contact details of those who don’t have the app or do not have a smartphone.”
It is understood that NHS test and trace will undertake an assessment and work with venues to understand what action needs to be taken. Venue alerts would be only sent to users if local health experts determine this to be necessary, such as if there is an outbreak linked to a venue.e