A new COVID-19 contact-tracing app was launched on Friday, letting users know if they have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.
‘COVID Alert Malta’ will use Apple and Google’s Bluetooth contact tracing system and does not collect user information, with sources saying it “strikes a balance between alertness and GDPR restrictions”.
The app has been developed by health authorities, the Malta Information Technology Agency and the Malta Digital Innovation Authority, and is expected to be available to download from Apple’s App store and Google Play.
Up until now, contact tracing has only been carried out manually, with volunteers phoning people to let them know they have been in contact with a positive patient.
The app will complement rather than replace conventional methods. Similar contact-tracing apps using the technology have been deployed in other places such as Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Unveiling the app on Friday, Health Minister Chris Fearne urged people to download it, adding that the Data Commissioner had cleared it as safe.
The launch comes five months after the plan was first announced by Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, who said Malta was “assessing its options”.
App to complement rather than replace conventional methods
Last week, Apple users in Malta were offered a new tool via a software update that will work with the app being released today.
It comes as health authorities have struggled with timely contact tracing since an increase in the number of cases in August, and there have been issues with contact tracers facing abuse from patients who test positive for the virus.
Authorities will be hoping that the app helps to cut down on contact-tracing delays.
According to the National Statistics Office research from 2018, just under 280, 000 people in Malta use a smartphone to access the internet.
How will it work?
The user will first agree to allow fellow app-users to be notified if they have tested positive for COVID-19.
The process is anonymised through a so-called ‘COVID code’, which unlocks a function that shares their positive result to a database.
Other phones with the app installed will regularly scan this database and alert the users if they have been in close contact with a positive patient.
The user will then be notified about what steps to take next, which could involve quarantine or arranging to have a test taken.
iPhone users will have to update their operating systems to ios 13.5 in order to download the app.