Coronavirus: Does anyone have a working contact-tracing app?

An announcement for the contact tracking app on the flags of the corners of Mainz

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Reuters

Caption of the image

Germany’s contact tracking app was advertised on corner flags in the recent game between Mainz and Werder Bremen

The complaint: No country in the world has a functioning contact tracking app.

Verdict: There are certainly countries in the world that would challenge it. The German app is up and running and India claims that its app has had 131 million downloads and tracked 900,000 people to tell them to isolate.

When asked by the Prime Minister on June 24, Boris Johnson said: “No country in the world has a working contact search app.”

He previously challenged Labor leader Keir Starmer to nominate a country that has a “functional” app for tracing contacts. He replied: “Germany – app running on June 15 – 12 million downloads”.

Contact tracking apps are downloaded to people’s smartphones and the idea is that if someone tests positive for Covid-19, the app will be able to report whether they have been in close contact with anyone who has downloaded the app.

The people they have been in close contact with can then be contacted and tell them to isolate themselves.

  • How does contact tracking work?

Germany has certainly launched its app: on June 25 it was downloaded 13 million times. Germany’s population is around 83 million.

The number of downloads is clearly crucial to the success of a contact tracking app because the more people there are, the more likely you are to find an infection.

When the app was launched, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The Corona-Warn app is an important tool when it comes to tracing and breaking chains of infection.”

Data on how many people were tracked by the app have not yet been published.

The German ministry of health has refused to issue a statement in response to Boris Johnson’s comments, but clearly believes that his app is up and running.

‘The most downloaded in the world’

India launched its app called Aarogya Setu on April 2nd.

The Indian government describes its app as the most downloaded health app in the world with around 131 million downloads.

India has made it mandatory for public and private sector employees to download it. There was some controversy about the app, and the government released its source code last month as a result of security and privacy concerns.

His latest tracking data was published a month ago. So far, the platform has contacted over 900,000 users and told them to isolate themselves.

The government said that among those who were recommended for testing, almost a quarter of them tested positive.

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‘Excellent supplement’

The professor. Martin Hibberd of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says there is no doubt that a number of countries have a functioning contact tracking app.

“The point is that these apps work, but they still don’t reach enough percentages of the population to rely on as the only means of tracking contacts,” he said.

“They are still a great complement to the standard contact track.”

The professor. Hibberd highlights Singapore’s Trace Together app, which he says has been working since March.

Singapore is now planning to distribute wearable devices to people without smartphones to increase the percentage of the population that uses them.

However, it wasn’t a completely smooth process – there were complaints that the system drains the phone’s battery, which has led some people to turn it off.

The country is currently experiencing around 200 new infections per day.

Marcel Salathé – digital epidemiology expert who advises the Swiss and other contact tracking app initiatives – referring to Boris Johnson’s statement said: “I’m not sure what it means; Switzerland, Latvia, Italy, Germany and Denmark they already have a working proximity by tracking apps, many other countries are releasing them in the coming days and weeks. ”

“It remains to be seen how effective they are, but they definitely work.”

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Low infection rate

France launched its app three weeks ago. Two million people downloaded it (although 460,000 have uninstalled it since then) – according to data announced at a government press conference.

So far, 68 people have used it to say they had Covid-19 and 14 people have been tracked down and have warned that they are at risk of infection.

French digital economy minister Cedric O told the briefing that the low numbers reflect a decrease in the number of infections in France.

France has had around 500 new cases per day in the past week.

He admitted that the number of downloads has been disappointing compared to Germany, but said the app would have been useful if there had been a new spike in the number of cases.

So the French government clearly thinks its app works, although downloads have been fairly low so far.

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