Most public health authorities in the EU have developed apps that support contact tracing and warning in the fight against coronavirus. An EU-wide system has been set up to ensure interoperability of these apps – a so-called ‘gateway’.
A tracing and warning app can help break the chain of coronavirus infections, nationally and across borders, and help save lives by complementing manual tracing.
The faster people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and their contacts can be informed, the less quickly and widely the virus can spread. The app therefore help to protect yourself, your family, your friends and everyone around you.
In total, 20 apps that are based on decentralized systems can be interoperable through the new gateway service. They can be linked to the gateway after following a protocol that foresees several tests and checks, and an update has to be issued for each app.
After a successful pilot phase, the system goes live today with the first wave of national apps now linked through this service: Germany’s Corona-Warn-App, Ireland’s COVID tracker, and Italy’s immuni. Together, these apps have been downloaded by around 30 million people, which corresponds to two-thirds of all app downloads in the EU.
The second group of apps will be linked next week. Then, Czechia’s eRouška, Denmark’s smitte stop, Latvia’s Apturi COVID and Spain’s Radar Covid are expected to join, while further apps will be linked to the system in November. The overview of participating Member States is available on a dedicated webpage.
Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Single Market, said: “Many Member States have launched voluntary contact tracing and warning apps, and the Commission has supported them in make these apps safely interact with each other. Free movement is an integral part of the Single Market – the gateway is facilitating this while helping save lives.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, added: “Coronavirus tracing and warning apps can effectively complement other measures like increased testing and manual contact tracing. With cases on the rise again, they can play an important role to help us break the transmission chains. When working across borders these apps are even more powerful tools. Our gateway system going live today is an important step in our work, and I would call on citizens to make use of such apps, to help protecting each other.”
Jens Spahn, Germany’s Federal Minister of Health, said: “Everywhere in Europe, infections are on the rise again. Right now, national warning apps are making a real difference. Because every infection chain that, thanks to an app, is broken more quickly helps to contain the pandemic. With the new gateway service, we are connecting apps across Europe. Like this, contacts can also be warned during or following a trip abroad.”
The gateway ensures that apps work seamlessly cross-borders. Thus, users will only need to install one app and when they travel to another participating European country they will still benefit from contact tracing and receiving alerts, be it in their home country or abroad. The gateway server keeps the amount of data exchanged to a minimum. It will efficiently receive and pass on arbitrary identifiers between national apps. No other information than arbitrary keys, generated by the apps, will be handled by the gateway: the information is pseudonymised, encrypted, kept to the minimium, and only stored as long as necessary to trace back infections. It does not allow the identification of individual persons, nor to track location or movement of devices.