Paper: Tracing app being developed to identify contact with COVID carriers

Smartphone. Photo is illustrative.
Smartphone. Photo is illustrative. Source: ERR

A new app expected to be rolled out by the end of the month is currently in the works that will notify its users if they have come in close contact with anyone who has been registered as infected with the novel coronavirus, daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) writes.

The app is being developed in cooperation between the state and IT companies, and its premise is simple: users of the app will be notified if they have been in close contact with a registered carrier of the virus together with recommendations for what to do, such as self-isolate for two weeks, EPL writes (link in Estonian).

According to Priit Tohver, adviser for E-services Development and Innovation Policy at the Ministry of Social Affairs, people diagnosed with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are already being asked with whom they've been in close contact in recent days, and while it is easy enough to specifically identify family members or colleagues, it is impossible to identify every stranger on public transport or in line at the post office with whom you may have been in close contact.

Another matter entirely, however, is how many people would actually use such an app — an estimated 75 percent of the Estonian population uses a smartphone, meaning potentially more than 860,000 users of the app, but according to Tohver, other countries' experiences with similar apps indicate that some 20-30 percent of the population might use it.

Nonetheless, officials find that even this would be a help, combined with other precautions including social distancing and good hygiene.

The app is being specially designed to ensure that it cannot be abused; data will be anonymous, location data will not be saved, and notifications to be sent to app users will be sent once a day, not immediately following close contact with a registered carrier of the virus.

Developers are also ensuring that only those who have actually been identified to carry the virus can mark themselves as carriers, although it has not yet been determined whether this will be done via Health Board data or with the help of a special code one can access via their centralized electronic medical records.

It is scheduled to be released at the end of May, and officials are hoping that by the time a potential second wave of infections hits, people will have already gotten used to using the app.

Tohver added that the new app could also serve as a basis for similar apps for other epidemics in the future as well.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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