From Iceland — COVID-19 Tracking App Launches Today

COVID-19 Tracking App Launches Today

Published April 1, 2020

Photo by
Vísir/Vilhelm

An app that tracks potential COVID-19 infections in Iceland is being launched today, Fréttablaðið reports. It will use GPS to locate people who may have been in close contact with confirmed coronavirus patients.

A message containing a link to where the app can be downloaded will be sent to all Icelanders, as Víðir Reynisson told Vísir reporters at a briefing last week. For the app to work at least 60% Icelanders need to download it, but the app is entirely voluntary.

It is hoped that the app will make infection tracking and quarantining more efficient. It works by registering all phones that have been near an individual so that if said individual becomes infected, authorities will have an accurate record of everyone who came into contact with them and for how long. People who have potentially been infected will then receive a message ordering them to quarantine themselves. Singapore pioneered this technique and has had considerable success with it. Many other nations, including the U.K., are also developing similar apps.

Data security and privacy fears have been a particular concern of the Icelandic public since the proposal for the app was announced last week. In an attempt to assuage these fears, the Icelandic Director of Health, Alma Möller highlighted the app’s dual approval mechanism designed in yesterday’s press briefing. Users have to voluntarily download the app and then give their permission for the app to use GPS to track their movements and for the infection team to access their data. The data collected will only be accessible to the infection tracking team and will not be stored in a database after the end of the outbreak. What’s more, the security of the system has been certified by an independent party.

Víðir was keen to stress that the app will not replace infection tracking workers. The software is not foolproof; human judgement will still have a key part to play in quarantine decisions. One example Víðir gave was that if two people parked next to each other but remained in their cars for ten minutes, the app wouldn’t be able to tell that there had been no physical contact between them.

Although it is April 1st, we must stress that this is not an April Fools joke. It is a serious public health measure.

The app can currently be downloaded onto Apple products from the app store and will hopefully soon be available on Google’s Playstore.

As ever, those looking for more information or advice should go to the Icelandic Government’s excellent COVID-19 help page.

Tune into our daily COVID-Cast for a deeper dive into the day’s developments.

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

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