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Irish Health Minister says ‘privacy at the core’

Niall Carson Health Minister Stephen Donnelly launches the official Irish health service executive Covid Tracker contact tracing app at the Department of Health in Dublin

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the new Covid- tracker app has “privacy at its core” as he appealed to people to download it.

The app informs you if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-.

He said: “Those concerns are very real and reasonable. The app has been developed with privacy by design at its core. We are also encouraging friends and families to help those that may not be as technically literate, to download and use the app.”

“We’ve ensured that from the very first version, the app is available in English and in Irish, and we are very much open to incorporating other languages in future upgrades as we receive feedback.”

He said if someone tests positive for Covid-, they will receive a phone call where they will receive advice.

“If you have the tracker app, you will be asked your permission for your phone to share the close contact information. You can say no at this point. The app is opt in – no-one is being forced to download or use it.”

HSE chief executive Paul Reid confirmed that as of Tuesday morning, the  app has been downloaded by , people since it was launched on Monday night.

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“I can confirm that it isn’t a dream, we have that many users. It is a phenomenal achievement.”

He said: “If every one of us asks all of our network to download the app today, we will capture everyone we need. If everyone asks everyone in their network to download this app – that’s the level we’re looking for in uptake.”

Mr Reid added the app is not a “silver bullet” and said the app will complement the existing contact tracing system.

He said the app has cost , euro to develop and that this is “on the margins” in terms of the overall health spending on coronavirus.

Acting chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said that until there is a vaccine against Covid-, social distancing, hand hygiene, and mask wearing will be key to battling the virus.  

He said: “The Covid- tracker app will be a very important addition to this and will increase our capacity to combat the spread of the disease.”

Dr Glynn added: “We realise that high uptake requires public trust and confidence… This is why such attention has been paid to data protection and privacy.”

He said research shows that a large majority of the Irish public said they would download the app, and he is confident people will get on board.

Mr Donnelly said the Covid- tracker app’s coverage is “effectively all-island” and that it will work everywhere in the country, regardless of internet access.

“The app works with Bluetooth technology – it works phone-to-phone. If two people meet on top of Carrauntoohil in Co Kerry for minutes – the phones will log that.

“The app is not active in the six counties of Northern Ireland right now. We would very much like it to be across the entire island, but certainly for now, anyone who is crossing the border should absolutely download the app.”

Anyone who may have been in contact with a person who has COVID-, is advised to contact HSE Live.

If you are unwell with a cough, especially with respiratory symptoms e.g. cough, high temperature, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever you should isolate yourself immediately and phone your GP.