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Dutch Corona app: what about it?

Last weekend the Dutch ministry of Health held pressure cooker sessions with 7 suppliers and many experts to select a candidate Corona app. This app should give us more freedom to move around in the coming months or even years. It is designed to warn us when we have been in contact with a person who has come down with Covid-19.

The app would support the contact tracing that is traditionally done by the regional public health services (GGD).

In this process the GGD manually tracks down everyone who has recently been close to an infected person. With the large number of current infections this has become unworkable.

An app is expected to do the job faster and more efficient. Once running it should give us more freedom to go about our jobs, studies and social activities.

Experts have doubts

Experts are cautious, however. They name 3 issues that could limit the applicability of the app: is it safe, is it technically feasible and will it work in practice?

Experts are concerned that the privacy of users of the app may not be guaranteed and that authorities would get access to the movement and personal contacts of all its users. A quick scan of the 7 apps did not take away these worries.

Using a smartphone’s Bluetooth to register other devices nearby is a much safer method than GPS to trace contacts, but the precision of Bluetooth is an issue. It may register other devices that are up to 20 meters away, but may miss one that is very close. As a consequence this may generate many false warnings and miss a critical contact.

Thirdly, this app will only be effective if at least 60% of people would use the App. Although in two different polls 40-60 % of the Dutch said they would use the app, reality may be different. In Singapore only 16% uses a similar app, in Austria only 4%.

Additionally, once travel bans are lifted, travelers may be required to download the app of the country of their destination. The EU is promoting an European standard to secure some level of compatibility.

The ministry is taking these concerns to heart and planning more time for the development of the app.

Corona Check app

The OLVG hospital in Amsterdam has developed another type of app that helps people to estimate the likelihood of a corona infection. The app is now available nationwide. It requires to pass on daily data about your health. A medical team, supported by technology, assesses your input. If necessary, a health professional will contact you by phone within 24 hours.

Signing up for this app is only available in Dutch. Healthcare for internationals has asked the provider whether an English version can be made available.

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