Boris Johnson: “no country in the world has a working contact-tracing app”

On the 24th June, at Prime Minister ‘s Questions, Boris Johnson stated “no country in the world has a working contact-tracing app” in defence of the UK not having widescale rollout of the NHS coronavirus app.

However, Germany appear to be seeing success with its own test and trace app which has been downloaded 13 million times, where its population is around 83 million.

On the app, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “The Corona-Warn-App is an important tool when it comes to tracing and breaking chains of infection.”

The German Health Ministry ‘clearly believes’ its app is up and running.

As previously reported, India launched the Aarogya Setu contact tracing app on the 2nd April, which has become the world’s most downloaded health application with around 131 million downloads.

The app has however, been made mandatory for government and private sector employees to download it and has not been without its own problems, where safety and security issues resulted in the Indian Government publishing its source code.

Professor Martin Hibberd from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “The point is that these apps are working, but not yet reaching sufficient percentages of the population to be relied on as the sole means of contact tracing. They are an excellent supplement to standard contact tracing though.”

Professor Hibberd also added that Singapore’s Trace Together app has been working since March.

Other countries to see successful rollout of contact tracing apps include Australia with COVIDSafe where the app launched on the 26th April with some issues with user login initially.

Within 24 hours of the app’s release, it was downloaded by more than 1 million people and within 48 hours that figure had doubled.

On the 13th May, the Australian Chief Medical Officer announced the app was ‘fully functional’. The app is built on the BlueTrace protocol originally developed by the Singaporean Government.

Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway are reported to have rolled out some of the most invasive Covid-19 contact tracing apps in the world according to Amnesty International.

Bahrain’s ‘BeAware Bahrain’ app, Kuwait’s ‘Shlonik’ app, and Norway’s ‘Smittestopp’ app stood out as the ‘most alarming’ mass surveillance tools assessed by Amnesty.

All three apps actively carry out live tracking of user’s locations through the frequent upload of GPS coordinates to a central database server.

Claudio Guarnieri, Head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab said: “Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway have run roughshod over people’s privacy, with highly invasive surveillance tools which go far beyond what is justified in efforts to tackle COVID-19.

“Privacy must not be another casualty as governments rush to roll out apps.”

Just prior to Amnesty’s analysis of the apps being published, Norway stated that it would ‘press pause’ on using its contact tracing app.

In contrast, Iceland has seen its contact tracing app be the most downloaded per population size in the world. Icelandic authorities have however stated that the app ‘hasn’t made much difference.’

The download rate for the app is 38% of its 364,000 citizens. The app is called Rakning C-19 and uses GPS data to build a map of where users have been. It  launched in early April; just over a month after the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in the country.