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HSE Launches Covid-19 Contact Tracing App

The HSE has officially launched its Covid-19 contact tracing app. The app is free to download and available for Android and iOS. There’s been a lot of talk about the app, so here’s some information to help you decide whether or not you want to download and use it.

First things first: what is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is “the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission”. That sounds complicated, but all it really means is how we keep track of people who have been exposed to the coronavirus and might not know it.

What is the point of contact tracing?

If you’ve been exposed to an infectious disease, you might be able to pass it on to others – even if you have no symptoms. If you know that you have been exposed to the disease, you can monitor your own health and self-isolate to protect others. So, it’s about keeping our communities safe.

Why do we need a contact tracing app?

If you test positive for the virus, a person employed by the HSE as a contact tracer calls you. On the call, they ask for details about where you have been, and who you have been in close contact with. Now that restrictions have been eased, many of us are going to more places and are in contact with more people than we have been over the last few months. Because of this, contact tracing will be more difficult. The app helps by letting people know when they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

How does it work?

The app uses Bluetooth and anonymous IDs to log:

  • any phone you are in close contact with that also has the app
  • the distance between your phone and any other app users’ phones
  • the length of time your phone is near any other app users’ phones

If the app records that you’ve been spent more than 15 minutes within two metres of another person whose phone is using the app, you’ll be recorded as a close contact. Later, if that person tests positive for the coronavirus, you’ll be alerted. This will let you self-isolate to make sure you don’t pass the virus on to anyone else.

The app does this work in the background, which means you can use your phone as normal.

What about my privacy?

There is a feature on the app where you can choose to record how you’re feeling. The first time you use, it asks you if you would like to share some information:

  • the county or town you live in
  • the age group you are in
  • your sex

It won’t ask for precise information about your age or where you live. You can choose not to share the information if you don’t want to.

Most tracking apps record where you go. However, the COVID Tracker app is different. It works on something called a “decentralised model”. This means it doesn’t track where you go and doesn’t gather any information that you don’t choose to share. This is because all it does is identify when two app users have spent enough time close to one another to be considered close contacts. Information from the app will not be stored on a HSE server or by any government body.

How do I get the app?

The app is free to download for your phone. So, as long as your phone is less than five years old, you should be able to use the app. Get it from the App Store or from Google Play.



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