The HSE has launched its COVID Tracker app, which aims to slow the spread of the virus in Ireland.
The app has three main functions:
-It allows contact tracing of close contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19
-It allows users to record if they have symptoms
-It provides daily information about COVID-19 from a trusted source.
Speaking at the launch of the app, the Department of Health's acting chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, emphasised that until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment for COVID-19, "testing and contact tracing are vital to our ongoing collective efforts to minimise its spread".
"The app is integral to contact tracing, working in tandem with the key public health measures of social distancing, hand washing, covering our coughs and wearing face coverings, helping us to stay safe and to protect each other," he said.
Also speaking at the launch, HSE chief executive, Paul Reid, insisted that the app will "enhance existing contact tracing operations".
"For those using the app, it can mean a reduction in the time it takes to trace close contacts from days to hours and, importantly, it can also help to identify close contacts who are not known to each other.
"Every additional contact that the app can trace will improve our existing contact tracing operations. By downloading the app, you are helping us to reach more people in a shorter time period and to provide the right advice and access to testing. This will increase our capacity to suppress the virus," he explained.
The HSE and Department of Health emphasised that privacy has been key to the development of this app. Close contact data is stored on the users' phone, not a government server, and the Data Privacy Impact Assessment and source code for the app, which demonstrate the openness and transparency of the app technology, were published in advance of the launch.
The app works phone-to-phone, using Bluetooth technology. If two people with the app are within two metres of each other for at least 15 minutes, they will be considered close contacts. It can be used throughout the island, including in Northern Ireland.
Research conducted by Science Foundation Ireland has previously found that 82% of people are willing to install such an app, and both the HSE and Department of Health are encouraging people to download it.
"Together we have made a huge collective effort in recent months to limit the spread of COVID-19. As we ease restrictions, many important aspects of Irish life are returning and we are able to access more services and to meet more people.
"The introduction of the COVID Tracker app will allow us to speed up reporting and tracing from the first onset of the symptoms of COVID-19, making the app's role in testing and contact tracing vital to the continued momentum of the reopening of Irish society and business," commented the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly.
The total cost of the development of the app to date has been €850,000, which according to Mr Reid, is "marginal" when considered in the context of COVID-related costs so far this year.
Meanwhile, according to Dr Sarah Doyle, a specialist in public health medicine with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, the HSE testing and contact tracing operation "continues to be critical to Ireland's response to COVID-19".
"As society reopens, the COVID Tracker app represents a simple way that we can all work together to continue to suppress COVID-19. The app will support our capacity to trace close contacts quickly, which is essential in containing the spread of this virus," she said.
The app development process has been led by the HSE and the Department of Health, in collaboration with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) and An Garda Síochána, together with technical partners from the Irish private sector and scientific partners from Science Foundation Ireland.
For more information on the app, click here. To download it on your phone, visit the App Store or Google Play.
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