Developers of an Estonian coronavirus contact tracing application have reached the final stretch and have promised to present the program in August. Estonia has taken longer to develop an app than other countries but the Ministry of Social Affairs promises a quality product to compensate for the time.
The ministry is expecting the application by August 20. Priit Tohver, adviser for E-services Development and Innovation Policy at the ministry, said the app is being developed by 20 people voluntarily who are still working in their regular jobs. Germany and Latvia, where such apps are already in use, have 100 and 50 people working on it, respectively.
Tohver said: "The app is being developed by a consortium of volunteers that consists of many different companies. On the one hand, it will take that much longer because the companies have not worked with each other before, on the other hand, we can't set deadlines that are too strict, they are working on it voluntarily and for free."
The adviser added the epidemiological situation must also be monitored. "We made the decision to develop the app properly. In a situation, where the infection rate is low, it is reasonable to wait and make a great product that is ready for use for a long time. We have put more emphasis on quality."
Singapore released its tracking app at the start of the pandemic. Latvia stands out among Estonia's neighbors, where the virus has been tracked by app since May. Finland's app is planned for release on August 31 and Lithuania has not yet fully developed one yet. Estonian developers consider Germany and Switzerland their role models.
Tohver said: "We started to develop our app based on the Swiss app. Germany, because everything is well documented there. We hope to develop our app with similar transparency."
He used France and Norway as examples where more data is being collected than in Estonia. "And the amount of users is visibly small. That's why we have developed the app to transfer the least amount of data possible to the state and most of the data actually stays in the persons' hand. The lesson from Norway is that the app certainly can't use GPS data."
The Estonian app will work on unpersonalized code. If a person gives a positive test, the phone will upload his code to the main server. All other app users will recieve a notification if they have been in proximity with someone infected with COVID-19.
Tohver disputes the app will only work when downloaded by a lot of people, as other countries have found.
He said: "That is a myth. Some analyses have shown that if our country were to use the app, about 60 percent would have to use it in order to fend off the next waves of the virus. But in reality, no country is only using an app. The same in Estonia, we also have a traditional monitoring system, conducted by the Health Board (Terviseamet), we also have social distancing and hygiene and many others. The use of all those is good because they are additional means to the already existing."
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste