Nearly 16,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus went unreported in England due to file size limitations of Microsoft Excel, according to reports. In a shocking blunder, the authorities in the UK failed to report tens of thousands of Covid-19 cases due to certain technical issues with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
Is Excel responsible for Covid-19 data blunder in the UK?
Apparently, the UK authorities that help oversee the country’s response to the on-going pandemic situation used Excel spreadsheets to keep track of the number of cases.
According to government agency Public Health England (PHE), around 15,841 went unreported due to an error. However, the government agency did not reveal if Excel caused this error.
A series of news reports say Excel file size limitations were responsible for this mistake.
PHE told me re: missing Covid data: "Initial findings indicate that the issue was caused by the fact that some files containing positive test results exceeded their maximum file size, and they then failed to load into the central system because they couldn't get through."
— Leo Kelion (@LeoKelion) October 5, 2020
“Initial findings indicate that the issue was caused by the fact that some files containing positive test results exceeded their maximum file size, and they then failed to load into the central system because they couldn’t get through,” a PHE spokesperson told BBC News’ Leo Kelion.
It looks like the Excel spreadsheet used to track the confirmed cases of Covid-19 hit the maximum file size limit and subsequently failed to update.
Microsoft has defined the theoretical limit of rows and columns in Excel. Once spreadsheets reach this limit, a popup message will appear saying ‘File not loaded completely.’
An Excel spreadsheet can have a maximum of 1,048,576 rows or 16,384 columns.
The simple fix would be to open the source file in a text editor such as Microsoft Office Word and save the source file as several smaller files that conform to this row and column limit. Then, open the smaller files in Microsoft Office Excel.
If the source data fails to open as a Word document, you can import the data into Microsoft Office Access and then export subsets of the data from Access to Excel.
For more information, read this post explaining the maximum number of columns and rows allowed in the Excel worksheet.
PHE later said the problem is resolved.