UAE’s coronavirus tracing app – Is it compulsory and other questions answered

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If you are wondering whether you have crossed paths with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, now you can use a mobile app to find out. Health authorities in Abu Dhabi have developed an app called TraceCovid aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus by helping tracing people who have come into close proximity with an infected individual.

Here we answer your questions about TraceCovid:

Who can use the app?

Currently, the TraceCovid app can be downloaded and installed by anyone living in the United Arab Emirates using a supported Bluetooth-enabled smartphone running on Android or iOS.

Once downloaded, the user will receive a one-time password for verification from Weqaya, managed by the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

The app also requires access to location services in the phone to function effectively.

Read more: UAE launches Weqaya website with COVID-19 information, FAQs

How does TraceCovid operate?

TraceCovid is a mobile app that uses Bluetooth to pick up signals from nearby mobile phones that also have the app installed, through a process called contact tracing.

The app on both the devices will exchange an encrypted Secure Tracing Identifier (STI) and store it on the devices. The STI in each device will, therefore, be a list of all persons in close contact with the user.

How does it trace coronavirus?

When one of the users is infected with the virus, the official authorities will request the infected user to upload the list of STI stored on his or her device. Those people will be asked to self-isolate for two weeks and, if they develop symptoms of the coronavirus, must visit a medical center for a test.

Also, a user who has tested positive can contact authorities to share details of STI.

This enables the authorities to react faster and reach out to possibly infected people to render the necessary health care, and to potentially minimize the spread of the virus.

Read more: Saudi Arabia’s Mawid app guides on self-isolation or hospital visit

How does the app make tracing more effective?

The TraceCovid app augments the contact tracing process as it can automatically record all the people who had been near a COVID-19 patient, including people the patient does not even know but were in close proximity.

Contact tracing is an innovative approach that will significantly reduce the manpower required as well.

Is it mandatory to install the app for everyone in the UAE?

It’s not been made mandatory for everyone in the UAE to install the app as of now.

The prospect of these apps entering widespread use has raised privacy concerns in some countries. Any centralized data collection presents privacy risks, according to Antonio Tomarchio, chief executive of UK-based advertising metrics company Cuebiq.

But for the system to function well, it needs enough people to download and install the app, and to keep their phone on at all times.

However, on Sunday the Department of Health Abu Dhabi invited the public to download the app to help authorities track potential infections. The more people who download the app, the more easily authorities can find people who have been exposed to the virus and treat them.

“We encourage you all to download the application and contribute to maintaining the health and safety of the society and protecting yourselves, your families and all those around you,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed, chairman of the department.

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How safe is the app?

The STI consists of anonymized data and timestamp (details of the date and time of the data).

No personally identifiable information is collected. “Privacy of personal information will be protected,” the department said.

Read more: Google, Apple face increased EU scrutiny over coronavirus tracking technology

Will the app affect the efficiency of the devices?

The application does not affect the use and efficiency of Bluetooth accessories including the earpiece, speakers, Bluetooth headset and others. The application runs in the background in order to be able to communicate with other users' devices that support the application.

Have similar apps been proved successful elsewhere in the world?

Contact tracing is a proven method to halt the transmission of coronavirus within the community by breaking the chain of transmission, according to health experts.

Tracking apps can be effective in reducing infection rates, even when only 60 per cent of the population adopts them, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Oxford.

A case in point is South Korea, which tracks the movements of everyone who tests positive through an app. The country, which as of April 19 had 10,661 cases, confirmed its first infection of coronavirus on the same day as the United States, which now has more than 750,000 infections.

The Singapore government said more than 600,000 citizens were using its contact tracing app, called TraceTogether, which it is making available to other countries. It can identify people who have been within two meters of coronavirus patients for at least 30 minutes using Bluetooth technology.

In the UK NHSX is also planning to release a Bluetooth-enabled app in order to slow the spread of the virus when lockdowns end.

Apple and Google have recently teamed up to introduce contact tracing technology as part of a rare collaboration. Smartphone users on the iOS and Android platforms can opt into a system which alerts them if they have been exposed to a person who tested positive for the virus.

Read more:

Google, Apple face increased EU scrutiny over coronavirus tracking technology

South Korea conquered coronavirus without a lockdown: a model to follow?

Here is how, when countries are easing coronavirus lockdowns

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