A COVID-19 contact tracing app that lets users know if they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus will soon be cross-compatible with similar apps in 16 other EU countries. 

The app update is intended to improve travel safety and ease contact tracing efforts, as Malta prepares to reopen to tourists this June, by making it easier to detect contact with COVID-positive people visiting Malta from other countries.

The updated version of the COVID Alert Malta smartphone application was announced by Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci during a weekly virus briefing held on Friday.

COVID Alert Malta was first launched back in September and is available for download on Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store.

The app uses Bluetooth technology to keep tabs on a person's movements and detect whether he or she comes into contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. 

No user information is collected and the process is anonymised to respect privacy concerns. 

Gauci said that alerts triggered by the app had led to more than 2,800 phone calls to a local virus hotline. 

How interoperability will work

An app update funded through a €150,000 EU grant will make Malta's COVID app compatible with similar apps in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain. 

If a person comes into close contact with a visitor from any of these countries who tests positive, they will receive an app alert - provided that both have their country’s COVID tracking app functioning on their smartphones. 

A tourist from any of these countries will also receive an alert if they come into contact with a COVID-positive Maltese resident, provided both are using their respective COVID apps. 

“We are moving towards a period where more people might start travelling to Malta, whilst Maltese will travel to other countries and we want to make travel safer,” Gauci said.

Gauci urged the public to download the app if they have not yet done so. 

Talk of travel post-COVID-19 has made headlines in the past few days. Earlier this week, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo said that Malta and the UK are holding bilateral talks to ease travel between the two countries using a so-called vaccine certificate.

Bartolo said that the document will include a standard QR code and the holder's dates of their first and second vaccine doses. 

He later clarified that those who might not have been vaccinated will still be allowed to travel. 

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