Ireland to launch coronavirus tracing app next week

DUBLIN, June 24 (Reuters) - Ireland is set to become the latest European country to launch a voluntary phone-tracking app next week to alert users if someone they have been in contact with develops COVID-19, the head of its health service operator said.

Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) announced plans to roll out the phone app in late March, just as the country went into lockdown, and initially expected it to be launched within 10 days.

HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid told a news conference on Wednesday that it has been approved by Ireland’s data protection agency and was awaiting final sign-off by the government.

So far, 1,720 people have died from COVID-19 in Ireland, which has had a manual contact tracing programme in place since its outbreak began at the end of February.

The number of confirmed cases has fallen to an average of 11 a day over the past week as the economy prepares to almost fully reopen next week, with just 37 patients in hospital compared to a peak of nearly 900 that threatened to overwhelm the health service in mid-April.

Ireland will adopt a decentralised model for its tracing app where the data will be held on the person’s mobile phone and not centrally by the health service, which authorities hope will alleviate privacy concerns.

“We’ve done our own research in the early stages of the trial, there is pretty much a positive pick-up, that people feel they will use it and would use it in the future. We’d be strongly encouraged by that,” Reid said. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Nick Macfie)