Coronavirus: Ireland set to launch contact-trace app
The Irish health authority plans to continue with the launch of a coronavirus contact tracking app based on Apple and Google technology.
The Health Services Executive told the BBC that he would submit a memo to the government this week and that “subject to approval” he would launch his Covid Tracker app shortly thereafter.
The move comes despite concerns raised about the accuracy of the technology in its current state.
The United Kingdom is concerned about false alarms.
And researchers who recommend the Irish effort have also questioned whether the software should be implemented in its current state.
Ireland will follow Germany in the implementation of this app nationally.
In Ireland, two tests were conducted before the launch of its app.
Members of the An Garda Siochana police force volunteered to take part in the field trials earlier this month to see how he would behave in everyday situations.
“The Gardai are one of the few groups of people who move and interact with each other while performing their duties,” explained a spokeswoman for the country’s government.
The results gave health leaders confidence to distribute them to the public.
And they note that since it was designed to support UK mobile numbers, visitors crossing the border from Northern Ireland or traveling through Britain can also use it.
The second experiment involved a team from Trinity College Dublin who tested an app based on the Google-Apple API [application programming interface] on a commuter bus.
He found that the metal in the vehicle’s structure and accessories caused problems.
The Google API allows you to adjust the threshold for what triggers a contact match based on the intensity of the Bluetooth signal and the duration of the exposure.
When they used the settings already used by Switzerland’s contact tracking app, the researchers found that no contact log was logged despite 60 pairs of laptops being located less than 2m apart.
And they managed to raise this to an 8% detection rate when they reduced the exposure time and adjusted the power of Bluetooth to a level that could have caused false alarms in other environments.
In addition, the researchers said that the signal strength was sometimes higher for telephones that are very far apart from their neighbors, which made reliable detection of proximity “difficult or perhaps even impossible” to achieve.
“As reasonable as it is to distribute these apps, I’d say the jury still doesn’t agree,” Prof Doug Leith told the BBC.
“But the likely effectiveness of Apple-Google API-based apps in real-world situations outside the lab is certainly far from clear.”
Last week, the United Kingdom abandoned its contact tracking technology to switch to the Apple-Google model.
But while the government now plans to launch a Covid-19 app of some kind in England by the fall, it said it may not yet include contact tracking functionality.
“I was ready to recommend people to download an app only when I really trust it,” health secretary Matt Hancock told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.
Apple and Google are under pressure to become less restrictive on the data they share to allow apps to become more accurate.
“The API does not directly expose the signal strength (RSS) measurements received from Bluetooth, rather it summarizes them,” explained Dr. Brendan Jennings, who is also involved in the development of the Ireland app.
“There are certainly some changes in the API that we believe may be useful – and we believe that Google / Apple will be willing to consider the changes suggested in future revisions.”
In the meantime, others have already decided to launch apps based on the software tool of the two US technology companies, including:
- Saudi Arabia
One of the developers of the German app stated that he was 80% accurate at the time in recording games in a wide range of scenarios, and was believed to be good enough to move on.
“There may be false alarms,” added Thomas Leonhardi of SAP.
“But this can also be done through manual contact tracking. It’s the best we have and of course we’re still working on it.”
The Robert Koch Institute, which published the Corona-Warn app on behalf of the German government, said on Friday morning that it had already been downloaded 9.6 million times. The country’s population is around 83 million.
Once Ireland has installed an app based on the Apple / Google toolkit, Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK should be able to use it – work done, right?
Well, no, say the NHS team insiders. First of all, an app is much more than just a code: you need to integrate it with public health advice, test infrastructure and manual contact tracking systems for each of the four countries of origin.
But the key question is whether the Apple / Google system is actually working well to measure the distance between two phones via Bluetooth: health secretary Matt Hancock and Test and supreme Baroness Dido Harding made clear on Thursday that they thought it wasn’t t .
Incidentally, Baroness Harding may have overestimated the failures of the centralized app in the Isle of Wight during Thursday’s briefings when she said she could only detect 4% of iPhone contacts.
Someone on the island who was informed of what went wrong tells me that this disastrous 4% referred only to cases where the app slept in the background after a long period when two iPhones had not been in use for a while. – which apparently explains only a small percentage of iPhone’s overall contacts.
What is frustrated for both the app team and Apple is that in the days leading up to the U-turn, the two sides had apparently started working closely on making Bluetooth better with the app in the background.
Thursday’s announcement was a surprise to the developers and the tech giant, who was then dismayed to hear Mr. Hancock accuse him of a non-collaboration.