Irish, German and Italian contact-tracing apps to be linked in bid for ‘safer’ travel

System allows different apps to ‘talk’ so travellers can learn of possible Covid-19 exposure

Ireland’s contact-tracing app is set to be linked with those of Germany and Italy within weeks in an attempt to allow for easier and safer travel between EU countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Ireland’s contact-tracing app is set to be linked with those of Germany and Italy within weeks in an attempt to allow for easier and safer travel between EU countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

 

Ireland’s contact-tracing app is set to be linked with those of Germany and Italy within weeks in an attempt to allow for easier and safer travel between EU countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Irish Times understands.

The Irish, Italian, and German apps are set to be the first in Europe to begin using a system developed to boost travel between EU member states by allowing citizens to know if they have been exposed to the virus abroad.

“Germany, Ireland, and Italy... they are in the forefront, they’re expected to join by the middle of October,” a senior European Commission official said.

“The gateway is ready...It should make travel easier and safer.”

The initiative is part of efforts to restart free movement across the continent, which has been severely impacted by the pandemic, with a significant economic fallout and personal impact on citizens.

The smartphone apps work by detecting other mobiles that are nearby and alert their users if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, instructing them to isolate and get tested.

The linked system allows for different national apps to “talk” to each other, so that travellers who move from one country to another will be able have their encounters during their journey logged by their national app.

They can then be alerted if someone they were in contact with abroad has tested positive, even if that person is themselves using the contact-tracing app of a different country.

Ireland, Germany and Italy are to be linked up first because their apps best suited but Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, Latvia and the Netherlands are expected to be linked into the system by the end of October.

High uptake

Ireland’s rate of uptake of the app is unusually high in Europe, with 34 per cent of the population aged over-16 counted as active users. Just 15 per cent of smartphone users have downloaded the apps in Germany and Italy.

Authorities hope to persuade more members of the public to download the apps by explaining that they help break chains of transmission of Covid-19 and are designed to protect user privacy.

In order to be linked up to the pan-EU system, apps must be designed to abide by European data protection laws.

“Contacts” are detected by the mobile phone’s Bluetooth scanning feature, and are anonymised by being recorded as a randomly-generated string of numbers and letters that are stored locally on the app. Once users receive a positive test and register this in the app, their contacts will be alerted that someone to whom they were in proximity has tested positive.

The European Commission coordinated the development of the pan-EU system along with member states and in a partnership between German technology firm SAP and Deutsche Telekom.