HSE confirms Ireland’s Covid-19 contact-tracing app set for launch

24 Jun 2020

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The HSE has said the Covid-19 contact-tracing app is set to launch, pending approval from Apple and Google, as well as the Government.

Ireland is set to get a State-backed contact-tracing app within the coming week. According to The Irish Times, the HSE said that the app is ready for launch and will be announced alongside a promotional campaign to “support its uptake and sustained use”.

This is expected later this week and a memo on the state of preparedness of the technology has reportedly been sent to the Government. One of the major steps in the release will be sending the app to Apple and Google for formal approval.

The app would then be ready for launch, pending Government approval. The app, developed by Waterford-based Nearform, uses the Exposure Notification API developed jointly by Apple and Google.

Apps that use this decentralised model will not track a user’s location or gather personal information, but will identify when one person comes in close contact with another on a given day based off Bluetooth ‘handshakes’ from their devices.

If a person reports in the app that they have been diagnosed with Covid-19, people who came into close contact with them will be notified and will be instructed on what to do next.

Willingness to download an app

A recent survey found that 82pc of respondents in Ireland said they were willing to download a contact-tracing app on their phone to help curb the Covid-19 pandemic. A separate survey published in May found that 84pc of respondents in Ireland said they would consider downloading a contact-tracing app.

In the latest survey, the majority of respondents said they would prefer an app that uses Bluetooth technology. Only 31pc said they would prefer an app that uses geolocation technology, something which the Irish app will not be able to track.

However, a recent study published by researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has called into question the effectiveness of Apple and Google’s API, particularly how Bluetooth connections are made on public transport.

This found in testing on public buses that Bluetooth signal strength could find it more difficult, in some cases, to make a connection between two phones close together than ones further apart.

According to TCD’s Prof Dough Leith, this is “presumably due to all the metal which reflects the radio waves”.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic