Contact tracing app launches in limited test phase

Members of the public will be able to download the new app during September, and if just 10% of people have it running on their phones it could provide a wide coverage area.

Smartphone with coronavirus graphic / Credit: iStock

A new mobile phone application which helps public health officials track and trace cases of coronavirus is being launched on Tuesday for a month of testing.

The first people to test the new app on a voluntary basis are several dozen healthcare workers in Pirkanmaa Hospital District and the City of Helsinki.

The new app will alert other app users who may have come into proximity for a certain amount of time with a patient who tests positive for Covid-19 – although it’s the responsibility of the positive patient themselves to let the app know they tested positive, before it can start to alert other people.

The system is completely anonymous and no personal data is sent or stored, and downloading the app in the first place is purely voluntary.

“On a trial basis, we want to make sure this whole chain works. The application must be clear, easy to use and absolutely secure for users, and the phone must reliably identify close contacts” says Aleksi Yrttiaho, Director of Information Management at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL.

App was developed over spring and summer

A prototype app was put together and tested quickly at a hospital in Vaasa during May, and then went on for further development in the next few months.

Officials have been keen to stress that a contact tracing app is not a magic bullet against a second wave of coronavirus, but that it should be viewed as one weapon in the arsenal of public health authorities against the virus.

Experts say that not everyone in the country needs to download the app for it to be effective. There’s an estimate that if just 10% of everyone in Finland downloads the app and lets it run in the background of their smartphone, it would provide a wide coverage area.

“Of course the coronavirus is affecting mostly in the Helsinki area so it’s important for people there who are moving around to have it. In a lot of areas of Finland there is no coronavirus at all, so it is not needed in those places as much” Antti Kivilä from Sitra told News Now Finland earlier this summer.

The final version of the app will be available for members of the public to download in September. Read more about the new contact tracing app and how it works at our original story here.