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Contact-tracing apps: there’s no evidence they’re helping stop COVID-19

Contact-tracing apps: there’s no evidence they’re helping stop COVID-19



Checking in. Danny Lawson/PA Wire/PA Images

During the first wave of COVID-19, researchers at Oxford University built a computer model that suggested if 56% of the the UK downloaded and used a contact-tracing app (alongside other control measures) it could end the epidemic in the country.

With the English app only available since September, it’s too early to tell how the system is actually doing. But even based on other countries whose apps have been available much longer, there’s still very little evidence that they can make a real difference to fighting COVID-19 – or that they can’t.

While this doesn’t mean we should write off contact-tracing apps altogether, the lack of evidence is a concern given the focus and money devoted to these apps and the policy decisions made around them. This kind of “tech solutionism” could be a distraction from developing proven manual contact-tracing systems. Indeed, the Council of Europe has raised the question of whether, given the lack of evidence, the promises made about these apps are “worth the predictable societal and legal risks”.

Despite predictions that between 67.5% and 85.5% of potential app users would download apps, worldwide download rates of contact-tracing apps have so far been low, running approximately at 20%. In Germany it has been around 21%, in Italy 14%, in France just 3%. Iceland and Singapore, which was one of the first to launch an app, have the highest download rates to date at 40%.

Download rates matter because you need lots of other people to have the app on their phone to increase the chance that if you come into contact with someone who has the virus the system will be able to alert you of that fact.

In broad terms, if you have 20% of the population as active app users then there is only a 4% chance of coming into contact with another app user (the maths is explained here). Increase the download rate to 40% and you have a 16% chance of meeting another active app user. This also works on the assumption that users have the same app or different ones that can work together.

Smartphone displaying contact tracing app.
The app can’t trace your contacts if no one else downloads it. Esther Barry/Shutterstock

Apps may not need high download rates to have some impact. A second report from the Oxford researchers suggested that a well-staffed contact-tracing system that included digital as well as manual notifications could reduce infections by 4%-12% and deaths by 2%-15% if just 15% of the population used the app.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health claims that where it used to take contact-tracing teams four days to identify and quarantine a close contact, the app can enable them to do so in within two days.

But in the real world, downloading the app isn’t the same as using it or, most importantly, responding to warnings to self-isolate if the app tells you you’ve been in contact with an infected person. A UK-government commissioned study of more than 30,000 people showed that just 18% of people agreed to self-isolate when someone working for the country’s manual contact-tracing system actually called them and explained why. The numbers for an automated message on your people’s phones are likely to be even lower.

Lack of trust

So why haven’t contact-tracing apps had more demonstrable success? First, there appears to be a lack of public trust in the technology and its use of personal data.

Earlier in the year, there was much discussion about whether the apps should upload data to a central database or store it on users’ phones in order to preserve their privacy. Most countries eventually opted for the latter, although France went with the former, less private system (and has reported very low take-up).

England also initially experimented with centralised model but after much criticism and reported difficulties switched to decentralised. However, the loud public debate may have left a permanent negative impression of the efficacy and inherent privacy concerns of government-developed tracking apps.

Indeed there is good reason to be sceptical of the apps’ effectiveness. Most countries (with the exception of Iceland) have also opted to use Bluetooth to record when app users come into contact rather than using GPS to track their specific location, again to protect privacy. But Bluetooth has a number of weaknesses that mean it can record contacts that never happened and miss others that did.

For example, the app might record you coming into contact with someone even if they are the other side of a partition wall. But if you keep your phone in your back pocket it may not connect with another held by someone standing in front of you.

One study, which took place on a tram and compared the Italian, Swiss and German apps, concluded that the technology was very inaccurate, no better than “randomly selecting” people to notify, regardless of proximity. The resulting false alerts have likely added to public confusion and lack of confidence in the tracer apps.

Technology problem

Another problem is, of course, that only smartphone owners can use the apps. Given that, in the UK, 61% of over-65s don’t have access to a mobile internet device, this means that the largest at-risk group is much less likely to be able to benefit from contact-tracing apps.

One solution to this problem might be to use alternative technology to register people’s contacts. Singapore has introduced a token that can be carried on a lanyard or in the pocket or bag, and that contains technology to enable it to fulfil the same function as a tracing app. New Zealand has also considered a similar “covid card” to circumvent the smartphone issue.

But ultimately, if any of this technology is to have an effect, the only evidence we have suggests it must be part of an effective test and trace system that includes manual contact tracing – something few countries have yet managed to establish. A tech solution is not always the answer.

Allison Gardner is affiliated with the Labour Party, Women Leading in AI, IEEE, Fabians and ForHumanity.

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TikTok Ban Obscures Chinese Stock Gold Rush

No one wants to invest in China right now. The country’s stock market is teetering on the brink of collapse. And it is about to lose its biggest foothold…



No one wants to invest in China right now.

The country’s stock market is teetering on the brink of collapse.

And it is about to lose its biggest foothold in America — TikTok.

Yet, beneath its crumbling economy, military weather balloons and blatant propaganda tools lie some epic opportunities…

…if you have the stomach and the knowledge.

Because as Jim Woods wrote in his newsletter last month:

“China has been so battered for so long, that there is a lot of deep value here for the ‘blood in the ‘’red’’ streets’ investors.”

And boy was he right.

However, this battle-tested veteran didn’t recommend buying individual Chinese stocks.

He was more interested in the exchange-traded funds (ETFs) like the CHIQ.

And here’s why…

Predictable Manipulation

China’s heavy-handed approach creates gaping economic inefficiencies.

When markets falter, President Xi calls on his “national team” to prop up prices.

$17 billion flowed into index-tracking funds in January as the Hang Sang fell over 13% while the CSI dropped over 7%.

Jim Woods saw this coming from a mile away.

In late February, he highlighted the Chinese ETF CHIQ in late February, which has rallied rather nicely since then.

This ETF focuses on the Chinese consumer, a recent passion project for the central government.

You see, around 2018, when President Xi decided to smother his own economy, notable shifts were already taking place.

The once burgeoning retail market had slowed markedly. Developers left cities abandoned, including weird copies of Paris (Tianducheng) and England.

Source: Shutterstock

So, Xi and co. shifted the focus to the consumer… which went terribly.

For starters, a lot of the consumer wealth was tied up in real estate.

Then you had a growing population of unemployed younger adults who didn’t have any money to spend.

Once the pandemic hit, everything collapsed.

That’s why it took China far longer to recover even a sliver of its former economy.

While it’s not the growth engine of the early 2000s, the old girl still has some life left in it.

As Jim pointed out, China’s consumer spending rebounded nicely in Q4 2023.

Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China

Combined with looser central bank policy, it was only a matter of time before Chinese stocks caught a lift.

The resurgence may be largely tied to China’s desire to travel. After all, its people have been cooped up longer than any other country.

But make no mistake, this doesn’t make China a long-term investment.

Beyond what most people understand about China’s politics, there’s a little-known fact about how they treat foreign investors.

Money in. Nothing out.

When we buy a stock, we’re taking partial ownership in that company. This entitles us to a portion of the profits (or assets).

That doesn’t happen with Chinese companies.

American depository receipts (ADRs) aren’t actual shares of a company. It’s a note that the intermediary ties to shares of the company they own overseas.

So, we can only own Chinese companies indirectly.

But there’s another key feature you probably weren’t aware of.

Many of the Chinese companies we, as Americans invest in, don’t pay dividends. In fact, a much smaller percentage of Chinese companies pay any dividends.

Alibaba is a perfect example.

Despite generating billions of dollars in cash every year, it doesn’t pay dividends.

What do its managers do with the money?

Other than squirreling away $80 billion on its balance sheets, they do share buybacks.

Plenty of investors will tell you that’s even better than dividends.

But you have no legal ownership rights in China. So, what is that ADR in reality?

We’d argue nothing but paper profits at best, and air at worst.

That’s why it’s flat-out dangerous to own shares of individual Chinese companies long-term.

Any one of them can be nationalized at any moment.

Chinese ETFs reduce that risk through diversification, similar to junk bond funds.

Short of an all-out ban, like between the United States and Russia, the majority of the ETF holdings should remain intact.

Opportunistic Investing

If China is so unstable, and capable of changing at a moment’s notice, how can investors uncover pockets of value?

As Jim showed with his ETF selection, you can have some sector or thematic idea so long as you have the data to support it.

China, like any large institution, isn’t going to change its broad economic policies overnight.

As long as you study the general movements of the government, you can steer clear of the catastrophic zones and towards the diamond caves.

Because when things look THIS bad, you know the opportunities are even juicier.

But rather than try to run this maze solo, take this opportunity to check out Jim Woods’ latest report on China.

In it, he details the broad economic themes driving the Chinese government, and how to exploit them for gain.

Click here to explore Jim Woods’ report.

The post TikTok Ban Obscures Chinese Stock Gold Rush appeared first on Stock Investor.

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The Great Escape… of UK Unemployment Reporting×576.pngThe Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee…



The Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee potentially has a problem: it requires data to make its labour market forecasts and assessments, but the unemployment statistics have become increasingly unreliable. This is because the Labour Force Survey participation rate (on which the unemployment figures are based) has fallen below 50% since 2018 and has been as low as 15% recently[1]. What is the solution to this difficult measurement problem? An answer can be found in the classic war film, The Great Escape.

In 1943, the Escape Committee of Stalag Luft III was tasked with digging a tunnel to freedom. Unfortunately, they had a problem. They needed to measure the distance between one of the prisoner’s huts and the forest beyond the prison perimeter, but they had no reliable tools to measure this critical variable. Fortunately they had two mathematicians within the group who came up with a method to gauge the distance to the forest so that the tunnel would be long enough to ensure escape without detection. The idea was to eyeball the distance using a 20 foot tree for scale (the tree was the one ‘accurate’ measurement around which they could work with). They got individual prisoners to gauge the distance from the hut to the tree and then averaged all of the estimates. The critical distance measure was therefore the average of a large sample size of guesstimates. Fortunately, it more or less worked. Happily, modern economists have an equivalent to rely on in the area of unemployment. Their version of the Stalag Luft III tree strategy is something called the Beveridge Curve.

The Beveridge Curve is simply an observed relationship between an economy’s unemployment rate and its job vacancy rate at the same point in time. An excellent exposition can be found in the Bond Vigilantes archive[2]. When you plot the two variables against one another over a given period, the data points disclose a curve. This curve shows us that when unemployment increases, job vacancies decrease and vice versa. I have plotted the current curve below using the available data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)[3]. The bottom left quadrant of the graph (the blue dots) relate to the Covid-19 era and the top left quadrant (the purple dots) represent the last 2 years’ worth of data. The green dots represent the remaining data from July 2004 to June 2023.

Source: Office for National Statistics, Dataset JP9Z & UNEM

Source: Office for National Statistics, Dataset JP9Z & UNEM

From these charts and new data from the ONS, we can observe that in the UK, the level of unemployment is increasing and that the job vacancy rate is decreasing. At face value, this suggests that current Bank of England monetary policy is working and that the inflation rate is slowing as the economy cools. One could argue that we are on track for a reasonably soft landing. Nothing new so far.

Things become more interesting when we consider the Beveridge Curve in conjunction with the most recent job vacancy data. We are told that there are now 814,000 job vacancies as of the 31st December 2023[4]. Ordinarily, we would use the curve and clearly be able to extrapolate from the Job Vacancy data what our Unemployment figure might be. However, we also know that the current unemployment data is unreliable, which makes this harder. Using our model inclusive of data oddities, we could extrapolate that with 814,000 job vacancies, we might expect an unemployment rate of around 3.5%. Yet, we know that our unemployment figures are unreliable so the question therefore is, how big an increase in unemployment are we likely to see given what we know about job vacancies?

In order to estimate the magnitude of the rise in unemployment, we need to look further afield. If we study the levels of economic inactivity in the UK, we can observe that they have remained stationary at 22%[5] for the last decade. We can also see that the population of the UK has risen over the same period by around 5.91%[6]. Further, we know that the Labour Force Survey (LFS) samples 40,000 households per quarter to obtain its data, but of late has had a response rate of only 15% (6,000 households). Therefore a critical question for policy makers is what is happening with the 85%, the non-responders?

Given the small sample size, it is entirely possible that the LFS suffered survey bias that is being erroneously weighted away. In other words, the LFS compensates for the paucity of response data by accessing other regional population statistics as a legitimate part of their methodology. The problems of non-responders are being addressed in upcoming LFS releases but for the time being, the data is not as clear as it ought to be. With such a small sample size, it seems possible – indeed probable –  that unemployment levels are being underreported. This would explain why the current unemployment rate of 3.8%[7] is dramatically lower than the historic average of 6.7% (1971-2023). We see further evidence for this in the forecasts of the UK’s unemployment rate on Bloomberg which have been consistently above the actual levels for the last few published data points. So whilst the published headline figures might be looking reasonable, the underlying story looks like it could be hiding something more sinister.

Through it all, the Beveridge Curve remains a reasonable template. Job vacancies are definitely falling, so we should expect to see unemployment rising. Like the Stalag Luft III measurement solution, the Beveridge Curve offers a constructive way out of our present statistical dilemma. That being said, analogies can only be taken so far. Unfortunately for the inmates of Stalag Luft III, the calculation didn’t quite work and the tunnel came up short. No one actually made a Great Escape. What does this mean for UK unemployment data? Time may tell.

[1] The UK’s ‘official’ labour data is becoming a nonsense (


[3] Unemployment – Office for National Statistics (





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Germany Is Running Out Of Money And Debt Levels Are Exploding, Finance Minister Warns

Germany Is Running Out Of Money And Debt Levels Are Exploding, Finance Minister Warns

By John Cody of Remix News

German Finance Minister…



Germany Is Running Out Of Money And Debt Levels Are Exploding, Finance Minister Warns

By John Cody of Remix News

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner is warning his own government that state finances are quickly growing out of hand, and the government needs to change course and implement austerity measures. However, the dispute over spending is only expected to escalate, with budget shortfalls causing open clashes among the three-way left-liberal coalition running the country.

With negotiations kicking off for the 2025 budget, much is at stake. However, the picture has been complicated after the country’s top court ruled that the government could not shift €60 billion in money earmarked for the coronavirus crisis to other areas of the budget, with the court noting that the move was unconstitutional.

Since then, the government has been in crisis mode, and sought to cut the budget in a number of areas, including against the country’s farmers. Those cuts already sparked mass protests, showcasing how delicate the situation remains for the government.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner attends the cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Lindner, whose party has taken a beating in the polls, is desperate to create some distance from his coalition partners and save his party from electoral disaster. The finance minster says the financial picture facing Germany is dire, and that the budget shortfall will only grow in the coming years if measures are not taken to rein in spending.

“In an unfavorable scenario, the increasing financing deficits lead to an increase in debt in relation to economic output to around 345 percent in the long term,” reads the Sustainability Report released by his office. “In a favorable scenario, the rate will rise to around 140 percent of gross domestic product by 2070.”

Under EU law, Germany has limited its debt levels to 60 percent of economic output, which requires dramatic savings. A huge factor is Germany’s rapidly aging population, with a debt explosion on the horizon as more and more citizens head into retirement while tax revenues shrink and the social welfare system grows — in part due to the country’s exploding immigrant population.

Lindner’s partners, the Greens and Social Democrats (SPD), are loath to cut spending further, as this will harm their electoral chances. In fact, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil is pushing for a new pension package that will add billions to the country’s debt, which remarkably, Lindner also supports.

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Tyler Durden Mon, 03/18/2024 - 05:00

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