Estonian COVID contact tracing app HOIA to be deactivated Sunday

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The HOIA app.
The HOIA app. Source: ERR

Less than two years after its initial release in August 2020, HOIA, Estonia's official contact tracing app for COVID-19, is being deactivated on May 1. The Estonian app, available for iOS and Android, was downloaded by more than 300,000 people in Estonia, who used it to be notified when they had come in close contact with individuals infected with the COVID virus.

"The HOIA app was brought into use at the beginning of the pandemic, when there were no vaccines available but it was hugely necessary to warn people about the virus," Kerstin-Gertrud Kärblane, development manager at the Health Board's Analysis and Development Center, said according to a press release.

"Now the app has served its purpose, and people are far more aware of what to do to protect themselves," she continued. "We would like to thank everyone who has used the app and who was involved in bringing it to life; it was of great help."

Beginning in May, free PCR testing will only be available for the elderly and for anyone belonging to a risk group. For the contact tracing app to function as intended, however, infected individuals have to indicate that they have received a positive PCR test result, which will become much rarer going forward.

According to Kärblane, the responsibility regarding COVID infections now lies primarily with individuals themselves, adding that people should stay at home if they have developed the symptoms of any viral illness, and notify close contacts themselves if they have been infected with the COVID-19 virus.

First released on August 20, 2020, the HOIA app was developed within a few months of the pandemic reaching Estonia, as part of a cooperative process between no fewer than 12 companies and the Estonian government.

According to Tanel Tera, head of e-services at the Health and Welfare Information Systems Centre (TEHIK), the HOIA app was a landmark cooperation project which resulted in the most downloaded mobile phone app in Estonian history.

"In order to make the development of the HOIA app possible, Google and Apple added brand new functions to their system," Tera highlighted. "This mobile phone app was the first ever to include a system of random codes which are not connected in any way to  personal data or the location of the user. HOIA is a good example of the state and the private sector being able to quickly develop world class solutions together."

Even so, he added, they must be able to determine the point at which a solution has served its purpose and there is no longer any real need to keep it going.

Tera likewise thanked the entire team involved in the development of the app.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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