Covid app results in at least 370 notifications to close contacts of positive cases

Number likely to be higher as people opting for certain privacy settings are not included

Two phones with the Covid Tracker app installed on them. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Two phones with the Covid Tracker app installed on them. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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A total of 370 notifications have been sent by the Health Service Executive to close contacts of those diagnosed with Covid-19 since the new smartphone app for Covid-19 was launched in June.

The real figure for notifications is probably substantially higher as 20-25 per cent of the 1.5 million people who have downloaded the app have opted out of metrics for personal privacy reasons.

While notifications are sent to that group of people if they are in close contact with a person diagnosed with Covid-19, the notifications are not recorded as metrics on the HSE database.

Fran Thompson, interim chief information officer, said the app has been a success both in the high uptake of users, as well as in performing the function of contacting close apps.

He said the app was not standalone but formed part of what he called the HSE arsenal to try to get the virus under control.

The primary tool for contact tracing was for the person diagnosed to identify their close contacts and for contact tracers to call those people. With the app using Bluetooth technology to identify people who have been in close proximity to those who have been diagnosed, Mr Thomson said there was often an overlap between the two systems.

Asked did the 370 known notifications represent a good return, Mr Thompson said it was very difficult to answer that question.

Complex cases

He said the app worked best in terms of community transmission and a lot of the cases at present were complex cases and clusters in work settings. Many of the workers in meat plants are immigrants for whom English is not their first language and who might not access Irish media outlets as a matter of course.

“The next version of the app will try to reach more people. It will have more languages built in, including eastern European languages, Portuguese and Spanish.”

The next version could also offer more interoperability. This version is fully interoperable with Northern Ireland, which uses the same app platform. The newer versions will look to work seamlessly with more jurisdictions.

Mr Thompson said it would also be more dynamic in terms of presentation and the information included.

The level of uptake in Ireland has been much higher than in many other countries. Mr Thompson said this was because it was released when there was a high level of anxiety about the virus and all those in leadership positions in society pushed collectively to encourage people to download it.

Asked if the level of uptake was at an optimal level, he said a figure of 60 per cent of population reach had been suggested at the start of the outbreak, but without much evidence.

“What is important about the app is that it supports, but does not replace, contact tracing,” he said. “Manual contact tracing is at the core of the operation and it will never be superseded by the app.”

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