UK mobile firms asked to alert Britons to heed coronavirus lockdown

Ministers call on mobile companies to send mass broadcast to reach up to 60m people

The UK government has taken the unprecedented step of asking mobile companies to send an alert to everyone in the UK telling them to heed the new nationwide lockdown rules.

It is the first time ministers have called upon all the UK’s mobile operators – including O2, EE, Three and Vodafone – to send a mass broadcast that will reach as many as 60 million people across the country. Only 4% of households do not have at least one mobile phone, according to the communications regulator, Ofcom.

Mobile companies were contacted by the government on Monday about the initiative, before Boris Johnson’s speech to the nation, broadcast on BBC1 at 8.30pm on Monday night.

The prime minister introduced a nationwide lockdown ordering the public, many of whom had been flouting requests to social distance, to stay at home. New rules include banning social gatherings of more than two people, and only being allowed to exercise in public once a day, and will be backed by the police.

The message that is due to go out at some point on Tuesday will provide a link to information on the new rules, as well as reminding the public that actions to isolate will protect the NHS from being overwhelmed and ultimately save lives.



New rules in force now: you must stay at home.

More info and exemptions at

Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives

The government has begun talks with mobile companies about using phone location and usage data to monitor whether coronavirus limitation measures such as asking the public to stay at home are working.

The ability to create movement maps of anonymised data, meaning individuals could not be identified, could prove invaluable in evaluating and shaping the state response to the spread of the virus.

The information provided on geographical movement would be delayed by 12 to 24 hours rather than arrive in real time, but would still be able to show patterns such as whether people were avoiding the high street and heeding government advice to stay away from pubs, bars and restaurants.

It could also be used to send health alerts to the public in specific locations, such as a city or town under lockdown, and would feed into decisions being made by health services.

The government does not have the ability to send advice on coronavirus directly to Britons’ mobile phones, after repeatedly ignoring its own findings that an emergency messaging system could help the country in times of crisis.

Countries including South Korea and the Netherlands have used national messaging alert services during the spread of the coronavirus. Seven years ago, the UK Cabinet Office conducted successful trials of an emergency alert system and set out how the country could build a similar system, but the plan never came to fruition. Cost is thought to have been a factor.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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