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Rapid Evidence Review of Data-driven Responses to Public Health Emergencies

Prof Lilian Edwards, Keri Grieman, Emma Irving, Dr Irene Pietropaoli

This report forms part of the project The Role of Good Governance and the Rule of Law in Building Public Trust in Data-Driven Responses to Public Health Emergencies, a COVID-19 Rapid Response research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (grant AH/V015214/1).

The last ten years have seen a surge of data-driven progress and discovery. We are in an era of discovering the sheer power of data. It is no surprise, then, that we have faced the Covid-19 pandemic with powerful data-driven tools.

Covid has touched nearly every aspect of public life, or indeed life in public. From the mass shut down of public spaces, to the work-from-home shift wherever possible, to increased measures by all necessary public venues - perspex screens, hand sanitizer, caps on number of customers - shifts have occurred across every facet. Beyond the mere desire for pre-pandemic normality, there has been a necessary shift in citizens' mindset to minimize transmission and infection as much as possible. Yet physical, viral safety inevitably comes at a trade-off against economic prosperity, mental health, and freedom. Clearly policy-makers decisions should, as much as possible, be informed ones - which means having access to the underlying science of Covid-19 itself, but also to ever-changing variables such as infection rates, vaccination numbers, and economic trade-offs.

Of the data-driven tools used, a variety of approaches have been employed. These have included conventional data analysis, community data sharing, and a spectrum of automation: from human in the loop approaches such as digital information and statistics, to those that may have humans out of the loop with digital immunity passports, predictive pandemic modelling, and contact tracing. From this range of approaches, data-driven technologies have provided a spectrum of information for policy makers and scientists alike. These start with such practical concerns as being able to provide remote services, to the ability to interpret trends from large swathes of data. Continuation of services has included necessities such as remote court hearings, medical assessments, and home working. Broader domestic programmes have included data flow from central locations to public sector entities, such as the shielding program. International cooperation has grown to include cross-border data sharing, very beneficially in the form of vaccines and treatments.

This rapid evidence review covers three data-driven technologies that inform and are shaped by policy decisions: i) contact tracing apps, ii) vaccine passports, and iii) aggregated use of data and vaccine allocation apps. It reviews the literature (academic articles, government and civil society reports, media pieces, blogs, and social media posts, etc.) discussing those three types of technologies, up to September 2021. While the focus is on the UK, the review covers, with a comparative aim, technologies used across the world. As such the review of the three approaches includes several country studies as well as key good governance concerns.

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