Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Covid security theatre, Guernsey style

My better half and I took a short break on the beautiful island of Alderney in September.

Before travelling visitors are obliged to set up a "Travel Tracker" account, administered by the States of Guernsey. Through your travel tracker account you fill in a long webform which demands an extensive collection of personal details, including Covid vaccination information. At one point I began to wonder when the  call for my inside leg measurement would appear.

Then within two days of travelling to Alderney you are obliged to pretty much go through most of the same process again, just in case, for example, you neglected to include your vaccination information on the first run though.  You can see the 49 slide description of the process in all its glory below.


On arrival on the day of travel you have to go through it all again, on your mobile phone, when the webform allows you to select "upcoming trips". Assuming your details pass inspection you get a blue screen pass to get let into Alderney.

One other feature of the form I didn't mention was that it invites travellers to pay £25 for a pack of covid lateral flow tests. I declined the offer, deciding to bring a pack of my own NHS lateral flow tests with me.

I also decided, given my clumsiness with mobile phone controls, to work my way through to the blue entry pass screen on the morning we were travelling. Expecting to be halted along the way, I was pleasantly surprised to get to the requisite screen without incident, though probably taking longer than the average teenager might have done. So far so good.

My wife on going through the form had decided to hand over the £25 for the tests, in the hope of avoiding any hassle over entry at the airport. She was to prove wiser than me and not for the first time.

The flight got us in on schedule and when the 16 passengers alighted from the 19 seater Dornier 228 Aurigny airline twin turboprop plane, we were greeted by a collection of people bedecked in surgical masks and plastic aprons, cheerily encouraging us all to connect to the FREE airport wifi. I already had my blue screen pass so initially didn't do so. One particularly insistent woman, who appeared to consider herself in charge, enthusiastically kept encouraging us to connect to the FREE airport wifi. She approached us. I paraphrase but the conversation went something like this:

Her: Have you connected to the airport wifi?

Me: I've got the entry pass. (I showed her the blue screen on the phone)

Her: That can't be right. Have you connected to the free wifi?

Me: No but I have gone through the arrival form and believe this is the requiste blue entry pass

Her: You have to connect to the wifi. That won't do. (She was getting significantly less agreeable at this point). You must connect to the wifi and fill in the form again. You must start again.

Another of the greeting squad, a young woman, then offered to help me fill in the form again, after I finally agreed to do so and proved to be slower than my original assailant was prepared to be patient about.

All around us, other members of the mask and aprons brigade were taking people's mobile phones and filling in the webform for them to access the entry blue screen, including ticking the boxes at various stages to say the phone owners were, without viewing them, agreeing to the site's terms and conditions.

The younger woman got to the offer to pay £25 for the lateral flow tests and asked if I had paid the fee. I said no, that I had brought my own. The older woman who had been hovering disapprovingly in the background keeping a close watch on this clearly untrustworthy traveller, decided to assert herself again.


She was quite agressive. This went on for a bit with her younger compatriot gently insisting, too, that payment of the £25 to buy a pack of Alderney's lateral flow tests was "the law".

It was a requirement to take a lateral flow test on the day of arrival and every two days thereafter for the duration of the stay. But I very much doubt that the law of the States of Guerney declares that travellers are required to pay £25 before being allowed entry.

In any case, the fuss was getting excessive so I agreed to pay the £25. Cue another round of slow tapping the phone keyboard to get the £25 paid. The young woman was left to deal with me on her own again, once her boisterous colleague had got the wretched low-life to agree to cough up. At one point she tried to take my phone as I was dealing with the payment but, that being step too far, I politely denied her permission to do so.

At this stage, having been first off the plane, my wife and I were the last of the passengers still in the airport and the welcoming committee were mostly packing up to head off. Mrs angry began to hover again and was not only irritating us at this stage but appeared to be intimidating her younger colleague to get these delinquents processed, so she could go about her business. The latter, in fairness, had been unwaveringly polite and helpful throughout.

Eventually the payment went through I got through the rest of the form and the blue entry screen pass, identical to the one I had showed upon getting off the plane, appeared again on my phone. The young woman led us to get our packs of lateral flow tests, I thanked her for her help and we were allowed through.

The episode left a bad taste in the mouth and spoiled the first evening of our holiday. But Alderney is an absolutely captivating place and the people there are largely terrific, so we did enjoy our stay.

Unsurprisingly, the long winded travel tracker entry form, along with the £25 entry fee extortion squad at the airport turned out to be a classic example of security theatre.

We were in Alderney from a Saturday evening until the following Thursday early afternoon. We did do lateral flow tests on the Saturday and then every second day after that; and thankfully stayed healthy and covid free. Nobody checked whether we had done the tests or not or what the results were. Nor were we asked to report them to anyone. In that four and a half days or so, you could count the number of people we saw on the island wearing masks in single figures, the number wearing masks indoors on the fingers of one hand; and there was no social distancing.

I repeatedly thought of Schneier's law - anyone, in this case probably some bureaucrat in Guernsey - can devise a security system so clever that they themselves are incapable of seeing its fundamental flaws. The bottom line is that anyone who considers the welcome regiment at Alderney Airport alone is going to keep Covid-19 off the island is sadly and seriously mistaken.

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