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contact tracing

Covid Tracker app expected to be 'decommissioned' by this summer

The app cost €811,227 to launch with over €100,000 spent on support and development in the six months after it launched.

THE COVID TRACKER app is expected to be decommissioned this summer when EU regulations no longer require countries to issue vaccine certificates.

The app’s Bluetooth contact tracing function was removed early last year but the app still currently holds a user’s vaccine certificate as well as information related to the number of vaccinations and Covid cases in Ireland.

These features will no longer be available once the app is discontinued.

A HSE spokesperson clarified that vaccine certificates can be stored in a phone’s wallet and health information can be found online, meaning that when the app stops being supported these will still be available to the public but in other places.

Once an app stops being supported, users are no longer able to open it.

The app cost €811,227 to launch with over €100,000 spent on support and development in the six months after it launched, according to information released by the Department of Health to Aountú TD Peadar Toibín.

The Department of Health’s response to the parliamentary has been seen by The Journal. It read:

“In line with the data privacy impact assessment, the app will be decommissioned when no longer required. As the EU regulatory requirement for member states to issue EU digital Covid certificates is scheduled to lapse this summer, its likely the app will be decommissioned at that time also.”

When the regulation on the EU Digital Covid Certificate came into effect it applied for 12 months from 1 July 2021. In February 2022, the Commission proposed to extend it by a year, until 30 June 2023.

The app received over one million downloads within the first 36 hours of its launch on 7 July 2020, which amounted to over a quarter of all smartphone users in the country.

The following July the app was updated to allow people to store and display the EU Digital COVID Certificate.

When asked by The Journal for an exact date when the app would be decommissioned, the HSE stated:

“We don’t have a set date on when the app will be discontinued. The design principles in the Data Protection Information Notice state that it will be de-commissioned once the COVID-19 crisis is deemed over, as determined by Government.”

The response to Tóibín’s parliamentary question also states:

“The cost of the Irish tracker app compares with an estimated cost of €20m for the German Covid tracker app, as reported by the media at the time.”

“Covid tracker apps are significantly more complex than a typical app, as it relies on using advanced engineering and Bluetooth technology to estimate distances from others with mobile phones.”

In reaction to the cost of the app being relased, the Aontú leader called on funding for it to be suspended ahead of its potential summer wind-down.

“It seems clear now that many of the spending decisions made during the pandemic were flippant and have cost the tax-payer extortionately.”

“For the first two weeks after the pandemic hit, the government took the decision to suspend the Dáil, meaning many decisions were made without the opposition having a chance to scrutinise,” the Meath West TD said.

“The Covid tracker app is another classic example – while the government will maintain that a large number of people downloaded it within the initial days after it was launched, I know of many who swiftly deleted it due to the space it was taking up on their devices.”

Tóibín also claimed that Bluetooth was not a complicated technology and “anyone with any experience would have been able to construct this app”.

He questioned why the app was still in use when it currently had such a limited function, “would a screenshot of your vaccine cert not do the same job?”, the TD said.

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General released this week found that the HSE has purchased ten times more ventilators than were necessary and was “seriously misleading” the Department of Health and Department of Public Expenditure in relation to its spending during the pandemic.

It was also discovered that the HSE sent advanced payments to ten new suppliers of ventilators without carrying out checks on most suppliers and subsequently received unusable ventilators from them.

Other costs

In response to another question by Tóibín the Department of Health stated it had cost   €10,400.85 to post vaccine certificates to members of the public.

The Department explained that this was due to Revenue printing all paper vaccine certificates and covering the cost of all postage because it was better equipped to carry out the printing and posting necessary.

However, the Department of Health was technically the sender of this post and any vaccine certificates which didn’t reach their destination were ‘returned to sender’.

The Department had to cover the cost of this post being returned, which amounted to €10,400.85. 

Vaccine certificates sent via email were free. 

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