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UPDATE 1-Northern Ireland launches UK's first COVID-19 tracker app

Fri, 31st Jul 2020 13:46

(Adds announcement of Scottish app development)

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN, July 31 (Reuters) - Northern Ireland on Friday
launched the United Kingdom's first COVID-19 tracing app, and
the first one that can also trace users in another country,
Ireland, who have been in contact with someone suffering from
the disease.

The developer NearForm, which hopes the app will become a
blueprint eventually synching up all of Europe, launched a
similar app in Ireland on July 8, and cases can now be traced
across the island's open border by two separate health services.

NearForm's technical director Colm Harte said the technical
approach it used in developing StopCovid NI would work with apps
across the rest of the UK and that it could apply across Europe
if countries agree how to share and store data.

Scotland's devolved government announced on Friday that its
tracing app is in development using the same software as
Ireland's and is also being built by NearForm.

It is due to be available in the autumn.

"It's definitely doable, it's technically very doable
because more and more countries are switching across to the
Apple and Google API's (application programming interface),"
Harte told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"I think it will happen. I don't know when but countries
across Europe are aware that there's more people starting to
travel now, this is a problem that's going to have to be
solved."

DOZENS OF USERS ALERTED

Britain moved to the same Apple and Google
model last month when it ditched a homegrown model
initially due in May.

NearForm, based in the seaside town of Tramore in southern
Ireland, is building Pennsylvania's contact tracing app and is
in discussions with other states and governments after the
successful Irish launch, Harte said.

Almost 1.5 million people, or 37% of the Irish Republic's
population over the age of 15, have downloaded the Irish app
since July 8 and 137 users have been alerted via the app that
they have been in close contact with a confirmed case.

Ireland has had one of the lowest infection rates in Europe
in recent weeks with an average of around 20 per day until a
spike on Thursday. Northern Ireland has a similarly low rate
with no related deaths reported since July 12.

NearForm's Harte said that if either app can break even a
handful of transmission chains, it will be a success.

"You can get into conversations about how many it needs to
break before it's considered really successful, but its goal is
to break transmission chains. As soon as it's doing that, it's
having an impact," he said.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin
Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Cawthorne)

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