Health Minister Chris Fearne has invited people to try a new app to monitor possible symptoms of COVID-19 and whether they need to take a test.

The app features questions which will help assess the user's risk of being infected and provides guidance based on the situation.

Users will receive further suggestions on how to behave on the basis of their replies and their answers will also help the Superintendence of Public Health assess and predict the spread of the virus in Malta.

The app does not ask the user for any personal details and is separate to controversial contact tracing apps, which ask people to track their movements to limit the spread of coronavirus. 

Like other countries, Malta is considering whether to roll out an app that will use Bluetooth technology to monitor when users come into contact with each other. 

Contact-tracing app

Other countries are mulling over a centralised or decentralised approach.

Centralised apps, such as those being spearheaded by Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), would involve information on users’ phone being sent to a central authority.

The authority would then work out whether a person has been in contact with someone else who has tested positive for the novel virus and issue users with instructions.

Critics of this approach have flagged data protection issues, insisting it would result in constant surveillance of society.

The other type of app retains data on the phone, with information shared with the health authorities only if the user chooses to. It does not provide location data.

Although some EU countries seem to be opting for the decentralised approach, citing privacy concerns, Malta’s authorities have yet to state their position.

Health superintendent Charmaine Gauci said a number of countries were introducing such apps on a voluntary basis, meaning people could opt not to sign up.

“We are evaluating the best way forward. The app is something voluntary and does not impinge on people’s privacy,” she said, adding a team of experts had been brought together and were working with people from the EU, ECDC and other experts.

Questions sent to the Office of the Information and Data Protection Commissioner for views on the matter remained unanswered.

In a set of guidelines published recently, the European Commission said the apps should “likely be based on Bluetooth proximity technology” and “not enable tracking of people’s locations”.

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