Published: 6 July 2020
The COVID Tracker app is now available to download
COVID Tracker is an essential new smartphone app that will improve the speed and effectiveness of contact tracing and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community. The app is free from the HSE and is available from today. Download the COVID tracker app here.
Identifying symptoms in real-time and reducing the time it takes to identify close contacts are vital to help us to interrupt the transmission of the virus in Ireland.
Contact tracing using the app reduces the time it takes to alert close contacts once someone tests positive for COVID-19. The app helps inform close contacts who are unknown to each other or who may have been forgotten by the person.
When someone first uses the app they are asked how they would like us to contact them – by phone or via the app. If they provide a telephone number, if their phone detects that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, our Contact Tracing Team can call them. Otherwise, they will be notified via the app.
Health care workers can download and use the app. We are working with our Public Health colleagues to review the use of the app in health care settings to identify if we need to issue specific guidance to different groups of health care workers. We will publish this guidance in the coming weeks.
We would encourage any health care workers that are using the app to input their phone number into the app so the Contact Tracing Team can contact you to provide advice and access to testing if you receive a close contact alert. You should always follow HPSC protocols and any local guidance for close contacts.
Apple and Google have developed a method that allows specific government-only COVID-19 apps to make use of Bluetooth technology on phones that would otherwise not be available. None of the information in this app is ever shared with Apple or Google.
How the app works
Two phones that have the app installed use their Bluetooth signals to remember each other anonymously. Each then logs the nearby phone at least every five minutes. This activity happens in the background of users’ phones all day.
The more people that use the app, the more effective it will be.
If someone using the app tests positive for COVID-19, they can decide to share their anonymous IDs. This is so other app users can be alerted if they are at risk. The app then uses those anonymous IDs to determine whether a user has been in close contact with that positive person - while never revealing the positive person’s identity. A close contact is logged on each app user’s phone only if they have been within two metres of each other for more than 15 minutes. This matches the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control definition of a close contact.
The app will continuously download the anonymous IDs of app users who have tested positive for COVID-19. These are then compared to the unique set of anonymous IDs collected on app users’ phones. This all happens in the background and users are not interrupted.
If the app finds that an app user was close enough for long enough to someone who has the virus, they will get an alert as soon as their app detects that they were in close contact. This alert is called a ‘Close Contact Alert’. The app will also display a persistent in-app warning to ensure that the user sees the Close Contact Alert. If the user decides they also want a phone call if the app detects they are a close contact, the app will share their phone number with the HSE. The user will still receive a persistent Close Contact Alert displayed within the app. If the user has chosen to self-manage (by not providing their contact phone number), then the app will provide information to the user about what to do next and what to avoid doing.
App users can also choose to share information about how they are feeling each day, whether they have symptoms or not. This collective information can create a real-time overview of the spread of the virus. All information shared with the COVID Check-in is anonymous.
People may have privacy concerns about the app but all the information gathered is anonymous and will not be shared beyond the contact tracing service.
The anonymous IDs shared between phones cannot be used to identify anyone that is using the app. If users test positive for COVID-19, the HSE Contact Tracing Team will contact them with their test result and, if they are an app user, will send them an upload code so that they can upload all the anonymous IDs that their phone has generated over the last 14 days. They can only upload their anonymous IDs if they are sent the code by the HSE.
Location data is not of interest in contact tracing. So, to preserve privacy, the app does not use GPS or any other method to track people’s movements or location. As the app uses a de-centralised system, no data is held centrally by the HSE. The identity of anyone who tests positive for coronavirus is always protected by the app.
The app does not have a major impact on phone battery life and it does not use mobile data for contact tracing. It shares anonymous IDs between phones using Bluetooth. Bluetooth needs to remain switched on for contact tracing to work. The app will use a small amount of data (approximately 1MB per week) to download and upload the anonymous IDs, share user’s daily check-in or view the latest information about COVID-19 or upload their anonymous IDs if users test positive for COVID-19.
When the Government declares that the pandemic is over, the app will be decommissioned so it will no longer work. Users will be encouraged to delete the app from their phones and it will no longer be available to download from the App and Play Stores. Users of the app can choose to delete the app at any stage.