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HSE reports 250,000 downloads of new Covid-19 contact tracing app

The app was officially launched this morning.

Updated Jul 7th 2020, 2:13 PM

HSE CHIEF EXECUTIVE Paul Reid has revealed that the health service’s new Covid-19 contact tracing app has been downloaded more than 250,000 times.

Speaking at the launch of the app at the Department of Health this morning, Reid said the figures was “beyond what any of us could have expected”.

The app has been available to download on iOS and Android devices since last night.

It is designed to record whether a user comes in close contact with another person with Covid-19 by exchanging anonymous codes that are held on the phones of those who have the app installed.

People who test positive for the virus will be able to choose if they want to anonymously alert other app users who they have been in close contact with.

The app will also allow the user to anonymously record information about how they feel every day.

The information stored on the app will not be transferred to a centralised server.

Speaking at the launch of the app this morning, health minister Stephen Donnelly said its widespread use would be vital to allow the reopening of Irish society and businesses to continue.

“Together we have made a huge collective effort in recent months to limit the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

“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.”

Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn also explained how contact tracing is central to minimising the spread of Covid-19 until a vaccine or effective treatment is found.

“The app is integral to contact tracing, working in tandem with the key public health measures of social distancing, hand washing, covering our coughs and wearing face coverings, helping us to stay safe and to protect each other,” he said.

The app will be voluntary, but a Lero study published last month by Science Foundation Ireland found that 82% of the population said that they would be willing to install it.

The app can be found by searching COVID Tracker Ireland on the app stores.

Effectiveness

No official today was willing to put a figure on what proportion of the population would need to download the app to ensure that the system is effective. 

While some modelling has suggested 60% uptake across the population is required, health officials stressed that few, if any, countries had reached that target. 

Reid said that downloads so far had exceeded expectations and called on people to “stick with us”. 

“If every one of us asks our network today, tomorrow, to download the app,” he said, that would be a major success. 

“That’s my call to arms,” he added. Officials today praised the ability of the Irish public service to produce such an app, saying that the development proved that the country wasn’t a “laggard” when it came to ambitious, state-run technological projects. 

Reid also suggested that such technology could be used in the future to cope with different viruses or even another pandemic. 

“I think we’ve built the capacity and capability for the future, of which the app is one aspect,” Reid added. 

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Northern Ireland

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed that the app can be used anywhere on the island – north or south of the border. He recommended that anyone who is crossing the border regularly, even if they’re from the North, should download the app. 

“You can use it all over the island,” Donnelly said. While stressing that the app is not “active” in the North, he said that the government “would very much like it to be across the entire island and talks are progressing well to that end”.

“But certainly for now, anyone who is crossing the border and anyone who lives in the six counties and is coming south and going back,” he said, should download it. 

With reporting by Hayley Halpin and Dominic McGrath

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