Social Distance Index to track compliance with public health measures among ideas discussed between Dept of Taoiseach and consultancy firm EY

A social distance index (SDI) that would have measured people’s adherence to public health guidelines on a rolling fifteen-minute basis was one of the plans considered by government as part of plans to tackle Covid-19.

The so-called SDI index would have captured mobile phone data by counting phones in tiles of 25 metres every fifteen minutes to monitor adherence to social distancing, “crowd hotspots”, and travel.

It was one of a several ideas floated during discussions between the Department of the Taoiseach and consultancy EY in the autumn and winter of 2020, according to records released under FOI.

The proposal came with a warning that “clearly, care [was] required to balance with citizen rights” but that a successful “proof of value” trial of the technology had already taken place in London.

However, the plan was not followed through with the Department of the Taoiseach saying the records had been part of a “springboard for a frank discussion” on what was known as the 1 Government Centre Project (1GC) to deal with the pandemic.

The Department had originally refused to release most of the records but changed their position after the case was appealed to the Information Commissioner.

Exploratory work took place on the Social Distance Index in both Cork and Dublin, according to presentations that were released. However, there were “specific quality issues” with the data available for Dublin.

The records also discuss the setting up of a Covid-19 nerve centre called “Room 350” to monitor disease spread and compliance with restrictions.

Three daily briefings would be delivered there with deep dive reports once a week. An alert system was also discussed saying: “WhatsApp Updated in the event of agreed specific criteria being breached.

“Criteria focusing on case numbers accelerating or hospital approaching capacity.”

The records also cast new light on how Covid-19 was spreading in the run-up to Christmas 2020, when infections soared out of control leading to a wave of illness and death in early 2021.