Botched Excel import may have caused loss of 15,841 UK COVID-19 cases

Ars Technica

Public Well being England admitted on Sunday that the company has under-reported COVID-19 infections by 15,841 instances in latest days as a result of a “technical concern.” The lacking optimistic checks have been carried out between September 25 and October 2 and have since been added to nationwide statistics, the company stated.

PHE did not clarify the character of the technical concern, however various British information sources have pointed the finger at Microsoft Excel. This is how the Guardian describes the difficulty:

PHE was accountable for collating the check outcomes from private and non-private labs, and publishing the day by day updates on case depend and checks carried out.

On this case, the Guardian understands, one lab had despatched its day by day check report back to PHE within the type of a CSV file – the only potential database format, only a listing of values separated by commas. That report was then loaded into Microsoft Excel, and the brand new checks on the backside have been added to the primary database.

However whereas CSV recordsdata might be any measurement, Microsoft Excel recordsdata can solely be 1,048,576 rows lengthy. When a CSV file longer than that’s opened, the underside rows get minimize off and are now not displayed. That signifies that, as soon as the lab had carried out greater than one million checks, it was solely a matter of time earlier than its experiences didn’t be learn by PHE.

The company says it would take precautions to verify an error like this does not occur sooner or later.

Along with understating the variety of COVID instances in official statistics, the glitch additionally hampered contact tracing efforts as a result of information in regards to the lacking optimistic checks weren’t handed alongside to contact tracers. Officers pressured that the check topics themselves obtained their check outcomes as regular.

The UK is at present in the course of a second surge in coronavirus infections. Infections within the nation peaked in April after which declined to a couple hundred per day in July. However instances have soared over the past month, and in latest days the UK has reported greater than 10,000 new instances per day (together with the beforehand lacking instances). That is about as many because the US on a per capita foundation.

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