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Coronavirus app not to be rolled out ahead of schedule despite outbreaks

A Latvian-developed Coronavirus app (picture is illustrative).
A Latvian-developed Coronavirus app (picture is illustrative). Source: markus119/Creative Commons

While the number of reported coronavirus cases has recently increasing in Estonia, an app to facilitate contact monitoring will be completed on schedule, by Restoration of Independence Day, August 20, and not earlier, partly to ensure app security is not compromised.

In April, the Ministry of Social Affairs started working to create an app which would notify users when they have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), where "exposed" is defined as having been within two meters proximity of a carrier for over 15 minutes.

The app is to be anonymous and its use is voluntary.

The latest wave isn't leading to a speed up of the coronavirus app, however. The app is actually ready, but is going through a beta testing period at the moment, Kalle Killar, Undersecretary for the Development and Innovation of e-Services at the Ministry of Social Affairs, confirmed.

"We discussed whether it was possible to roll out the app earlier, but evaluating the security testing period realistically, we thought it is not so realistic to do this," Killar said.

Since the app deals with sensitive personal data, it is most important to guarantee its security and not compromise.

"We need to ensure that the data is protected and nothing can be leaked. This is why the success of the security tests is very important," Killar said.

The app will be ready by August 20, and Killar doesn't consider it a problem that the app won't be ready before that.

"The situation is under control; we are not in crisis. The Health Board's contact tracking system works very well, and they can keep the cases under control," he explained.

Killar describes the mobile app as an additional tool that will make it easier to monitor and control the outbreak come the fall.

The philosophy of the app is that it is voluntary for all users, as well as being completely anonymous.

Furthermore, it has been ensured that the app cannot be misused.

"When a person takes the COVID-19 test and gets a positive result, then through the medical data system, he gets a code that he can enter into his phone and then he can note through the app that he is positive and phones that have been in contact with him, get the notification," Killar explained.

Those who can't or don't want to use the medical data system can ask for a code from the Health Board.

Since the app doesn't save data on individuals or locations, a person who gets the notification that they have been in contact with a COVID-19-positive individual won't know, at least from the app itself, where they came into contact with a carrier or who that person was. However, it should encourage people to monitor their health, implement self-isolation and go for a test if needed, it is argued.

Using the coronavirus app is voluntary for both those who have tested positive and those who have not, so no comprehensive information about those who have been in close contact with the virus will be collated. The close contact alert will in any case only be sent to those who have downloaded the app.

The app monitors and signals only those coronavirus-positive exposures that have lasted more than 15 minutes and have been in proximity closer than two meters, as set out by the internationally developed standard.

Killar adds that the mobile application enhances public responsibility. In countries where the app is centrally managed and the information is collected, their use is also lower than in countries that apply the principle of anonymity, Killar confirms.

A centralized coronavirus contact app developed by the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS) was recently abandoned amid security concerns and other issues. The NHS is now looking at developing an app with either of the two tech giants, Apple and Google.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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