Spain launches first phase of coronavirus-tracking app

The new system, Radar Covid, is designed to alert users if they have come into contact with a person with an active infection, and will be trialed in the Canary island of La Gomera

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (l) and Economy Minister Nadia Calviño arriving in Congress on June 17.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (l) and Economy Minister Nadia Calviño arriving in Congress on June 17.Dani Duch / Pool / Europa Press
San Sebastián De La Gomera - 29 Jun 2020 - 15:32 CEST

Spain’s Economy and Digital Transformation Ministry on Monday launched the first stage of a pilot program to test an app designed to warn users if they are at risk of contracting Covid-19. The app, called Radar Covid, will work on Android and iOS cellphones, and has been sent to Google and Apple so that it can be officially validated and included in their respective stores.

The test run of Radar Covid will take place in La Gomera, in Spain’s Canary Islands. For many years, La Gomera has been the most isolated island in the archipelago. It was the last island to open an airport, which was not inaugurated until 1999. Up until then, the main way to reach La Gomera was on a ferry that left from Los Cristianos in the island of Tenerife. Its relative isolation is one of the reasons why the ministry, via the State Secretary’s Office for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence, chose La Gomera to test the effectiveness of the Radar Covid app.

The pilot will simulate an outbreak of 300 coronavirus cases to test the efficiency of the tracking system

The pilot program will be divided into three stages, according to the Office for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence. The first stage is the launch, which will focus on communication, promotion and training on a local level. The campaign “will also reach shipping companies and airlines that operate between the islands in order to reach the population outside of the island when the second phase is underway,” said this agency in a release. Under the first stage, a group of workers will also be trained to promote the app and assist with its installation, both in person and over the phone.

The second stage, which will begin on July 6, is the monitoring phase. This is when the central government, working alongside regional and local authorities, will simulate a fictional coronavirus outbreak of 300 cases. The simulated outbreak will occur in three waves, with infections detected from July 10, 13 and 17, until 300 are recorded.

The drill is designed to test the effectiveness of the app, which operates using Bluetooth. Once the first false positive has been activated, a small percentage of app users should receive a warning alerting them that they have come into contact with a coronavirus case. They must then contact health authorities, according to the protocol planned by the regional government of the Canary Islands. The central government says that data from the pilot program will be monitored daily to detect any relevant benchmarks.

The last stage, called post-pilot, will begin on July 20 and will analyze three aspects of the process: how many people downloaded the app, how many positive cases were detected, and how many users kept the app on their cellphones.

But it will be difficult to assess how well the app will be adopted more broadly across Spain, given the short time frame of the pilot and the fact that users know it is a drill. According to sources from the Office for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence, the goal is to reach 3,000 downloads in La Gomera, which has a population of 22,000.

Spain has taken longer than other countries to develop a coronavirus-tracking app. This technology is already available in Italy, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Latvia and Germany, where it was downloaded 12 million times just one week within its launch.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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