Coronavirus: HSE reports 725,000 downloads of new contact-tracing app since launch

Minister for Health says app is not a ‘silver bullet’ but an important new tool in the fight against Covid-19

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has urged all members of the public to download the new Covid-19 contact-tracing app in order to protect themselves and others. Video: RTÉ

 

About 725,000 people downloaded the new Covid-19 tracker app within hours of it going live, the HSE has said.

The app, developed by Waterford company Nearform, is primarily used for contact tracing, checking on symptoms daily and providing updates on Covid-19 in Ireland.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said securing such a take-up was a phenomenal achievement.

Speaking at the launch of the new app, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it would enhance existing contact tracing measures.

The Minister said it was not a “silver bullet” but would be a very powerful and important new tool in the fight against coronavirus.

Mr Donnelly said great progress had been made by the Irish people in suppressing the virus. However, he said Covid-19 had not gone away and the situation internationally was very volatile. He said it was entirely possible there would be many more outbreaks in Ireland.

The Minister urged people to download the app. “If you do, you are protecting yourself. You are protecting your family. You are protecting your friends . You are protecting many people you do not know. And if they download the app, they are protecting you and your family.”

Mr Donnelly said the app’s role in testing and contact tracing would be vital to the continued momentum of the reopening of Irish society and business.

“Together we have made a huge collective effort in recent months to limit the spread of Covid-19. As we ease restrictions, many important aspects of Irish life are returning, and we are able to access more services and to meet more people.

“The introduction of the Covid tracker app will allow us to speed up reporting and tracing from the first onset of the symptoms of Covid-19,” he said.

As of 8.30pm on Tuesday the HSE said 725,426 people have now downloaded the Covid tracker app, a HSE spokesman has said.

‘Misleading’

Mr Donnelly said the idea that 60 per cent of a population would need to download it to make the app effective was a “bit misleading”. It was based, he said, on a UK study which said that would be the case where no other forms of contact tracing were in operation.

“We are at over 600,000 already. That in and of itself is going to make a difference,” he told RTÉ Six One News of the take-up rate.

“If enough of us do it, it really is going to help in terms of getting the schools back open; making sure people can continue to go back to work; getting the hospitals and the healthcare system back up and going.”

He said when “inevitable” outbreaks occur, the app will “seriously increase our ability to react”.

The Minister also said that while the app only works on relatively new smartphones, there are ample numbers of those to make it effective so long as enough people participate.

On the issue of foreign travel he said the Government was asking people who have non-essential trips booked before July 20th not to go and for anyone after that date planning on going to a country not on a forthcoming “green list” of approved locations, to also cancel.

Reduction

Mr Reid said use of the new app could see a reduction from days to hours in the time required to trace close contacts of someone who tested positive.

“Importantly, it can help to identify close contacts who are not known to each other”, he said, adding every additional contact that could be traced will improve existing contact tracing operations.

“By downloading the app you are helping us to reach more people in a shorter time period and to provide the right advice and access to testing. This will increase our capacity to suppress the virus.”

Department of Health acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said the app was integral to contact tracing.

He said the new technology could lead to some people being asked to undertake more than one Covid-19 test.

On Tuesday evening Dr Glynn said: “As of 5pm this evening, the Covid Tracker App had approximately 545,000 downloads. This is one more example of the solidarity and collective spirit that has characterised the Irish public’s response to Covid-19 to date.

“The app is an important tool to support our contact tracing systems. It has the potential to reduce the time that people are active in the community with infection, which will have a significant impact on the transmission of the disease.

“The more people who download and use this app, the more effective it will be. It is a further opportunity for us to play our part in the response to Covid-19.”

The app requires the latest versions of both Apple and Google’s software, which include the exposure notification tool upon which the app is built.

If you are going to use contact tracing, you will need to enable bluetooth; location services are not essential, and both Apple and Google previously said there would be no sharing of location data with the Covid tracker software.

Location services

After installing it on both iOS and Android, neither required access to my location data, nor did they appear on the list of apps that had used location services in recent days. You will also be asked to allow the app to send you notifications.

For the app to be effective as a way of tracing contacts, it requires other people to also download and use it, which is why the HSE is keen to have as many people as possible share the app.

The app also asks for permission to collect app metrics, or data on how the app is being used.

According to the terms and conditions, that includes if the app on your phone is being used, if exposure notification services have been turned on and if the app has received any exposure notifications.

None of the permissions are essential to the working of the app, so you can refuse consent in the first instance or go back and disable them in the in-app settings.

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