Concerns raised about Covid-19 tracker app’s ‘limited benefits’

Effects of app may be minor despite high up-take in its use in State, new research says

The State’s Covid-19 tracker app was launched last July. Photograph: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

The State’s Covid-19 tracker app was launched last July. Photograph: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

 

Despite the “high take-up” of the State’s Covid-19 tracker app, there are concerns about its “limited benefits” to date, a research paper has said.

The app, which was launched last July, has four main functions; alert the user if they been in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19, alert close contacts if the user has tested positive, give the user advice if they report symptoms and provide an overview of national and regional data, such as confirmed cases, hospital and ICU admissions.

“Based on app data, on January 26th, 2021, Ireland had a total of 189,851 confirmed cases of Covid-19. However, only 13,136 users with positive tests shared their results on the app and only 21,757 users were sent a close contact alert,” the paper said.

“So, even though the up-take is higher than other parts of the world, the effects of the app may be minor.”

The paper on ehealth in Ireland was commissioned by the Oireachtas. It also said the “soundness of the tracing technology” has been questioned.

“Bluetooth signals can be unreliable: there is a chance that app users will be incorrectly identified as close contacts through the app,” it said.

“Temporary issues with battery drainage caused users to uninstall the app.These issues diminish the value of the app and consequently can undermine trust in the technology.”

Success

However, the report noted the app was “inexpensive” to develop compared to others, costing €850,000.

“In contrast, the original UK app, which cost millions of pounds, had to be abandoned, because they could not get it to work and they had to pivot to a new app based on Apple and Google’s software,” it added.

“Another positive has been that the Covid app turned out to be an investment in the Irish eHealth industry. NearForm, the Waterford-based company behind the app, has been thriving during the pandemic. In the USA, New York and New Jersey have launched apps based on its source code.”

Some 2.4 million people have registered for the app in Ireland, with an active user base of 1.3 million, representing just over one in three adults (aged 16 and above) in the country.

Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE, said the app’s release was the “most successful launch of this app anywhere in the world” while the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the app was “one of the most successful in the world”.