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HSE still plans to roll out contact tracing app by end of the month

The app will be opt-in and support, rather than replace, current contact tracing processes.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Kostenko Maxim

THE HSE STILL intends to roll out its Covid-19 contact tracing app by the end of this month despite reported delays with the process.

Speaking at the HSE’s weekly Covid-19 briefing, HSE CEO Paul Reid said health officials are working with Google and Apple to develop the app’s API (application programming interface).

Reid added that the app will be opt-in and support, rather than replace, current contact-tracing processes.

“The app will be an element of the overall contact tracing system, and that has been the experience in Europe.

“It is part of a process of a wider contact and tracing system, it is not the only solution,” Reid said.

A soft pilot launch will take place before the app is rolled out to the general public.

Dr Sarah Doyle, HSE Consultant in Public Health, told reporters it’s her understanding that the app is on track be launched by the end of May.

Under the plans, phones with the app installed will exchange Bluetooth signals when users are in close proximity to each other. Similar apps have been developed in other countries in response to the pandemic.

However, some concerns have been raised about privacy as well as the app’s accuracy.

Privacy concerns

Doyle said privacy concerns have “understandably” arisen in relation to the app and these are being taken into consideration. She said a data protection impact assessment is ongoing, describing this as “really important”.

She reiterated that signing up to the app will be voluntary and that the information stored on it will not be transferred to a centralised server.

“It is voluntary, it is anonymous, you must be over 16 [to use the app].

“So, all of those things need to be worked out to make sure that everybody is satisfied about the ability of the app to identify close contexts and to enhance and enable our contact tracing, but I suppose also to be sure about the privacy concerns that understandably arise in relation to it.”

Doyle also stressed that the app “will complement”, not replace, current contact tracing methods.

“The purpose of contact tracing is identification of the case to make sure that they’re doing what they need to do – self-isolation to prevent the spread of infection.

“And then also identification of contacts, so we will continue to have the full conversation with cases to identify their close contacts.”

Doyle said if and when a person receives a phone call telling them they’ve been in touch with a person who has Covid-19, they will be asked if they have downloaded the app and consent to it being used as part of the contact tracing process.

“Others who have also downloaded the app and have been in close contact during the infectious period, they will receive a push notification to say ‘You’ve been in close contact with somebody with Covid-19′,” Doyle said.

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The alert will also include advice and information, she added.

During the week, Health Minister Simon Harris said he wants an “all-island approach” to the app.

“It is my intention that it would, of course, be available to residents in Northern Ireland through the UK Apple Store.

“I will come back about the ways in which we can make that happen and we are having conversations with colleagues in relation to an all-island approach, of which this is one element.”

Contains reporting from PA

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