Covid Tracker phone app likely to be decommissioned ‘by summer’

The app was used by contact tracers to let people know if they had been near a person who had tested positive for Covid-19.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins© Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Tracker app

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Eilish O'

The Covid Tracker app which was downloaded by almost two million people during the height of the pandemic is to be decommissioned.

The app was used by contact tracers to let people know if they had been near a person who had tested positive for Covid-19.

In more recent times it was used as a wallet for the EU digital Covid certificates which provided proof of vaccination, a negative test or recovery from infection.

The approximate cost of the Covid Tracker app was €800,000 with ongoing support and development costs of around €20,000 per month during the subsequent six months.

It compares with an estimated cost of €20m for the German Covid tracker app, as reported by the media at the time, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said in a parliamentary response to Aontu leader Peadar Toibin.

Mr Donnelly said Covid tracker apps are significantly more complex than a typical app, as they rely on advanced engineering and Bluetooth technology to estimate distances from other people with mobile phones.

Tracker app

“The Irish app was also used as part of the communications strategy to keep people informed about the spread of the disease, the number of positive cases and deaths recorded by area and the number of vaccinations administered,” he said.

“The app was subsequently upgraded to act as a digital wallet for people to store their digital Covid certificate on their phone.

“The Irish Covid app was extremely popular with the public – with over one million downloads in the first 36 hours after launch.

“In line with the data privacy impact assessment, the app will be decommissioned when no longer required.

“As the EU regulatory requirement for member states to issue EU digital Covid certificates is scheduled to lapse this summer, it’s likely the app will be decommissioned at that time also,” he said.

A survey conducted on the app by the University of Limerick found although four in five users felt it was easy to download, it was easy to use and looked professional, more than one in five users felt it had slowed down their phone and more than a quarter said it had a negative effect on their phone’s battery life.

The survey found that as of November 2021, there were 1.7 million active users of the app in Ireland, which equates to 43pc of the population aged 16 years or over.

News of the app’s withdrawal comes as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to hold another hearing into spending by the HSE on ventilators in response to the pandemic.

A report found the HSE ordered more than 10 times the number of hospital ventilators it needed at the start of the pandemic.

It came at a total cost of €129m with €30.5m worth of equipment remaining unused.

The report from the Comptroller and Auditor General said early in March 2020 the HSE identified an urgent need for additional ventilators.

“The subsequent emergency procurement of ventilators cost the HSE a net €51m,” it said. “Of this amount, €20.5m was paid to the HSE’s established suppliers for 581 ventilators.

“These devices met the required standard for use in Ireland (and the EU) and have been deployed to hospitals or are held in reserve.”

However, the HSE did not use ventilators worth €30.5m, “which represents a loss of value”. The report said advance payments totalling €81m were made to new suppliers and the HSE received refunds totalling €50.5m.

“It is continuing to pursue refunds of €22.3m for orders that were cancelled or where the ventilators received were deemed not fit for purpose.”

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