App Developed to Limit the Spread of the Coronavirus in Latvia
As of 29 May, the app Apturi COVID is available to all Latvian citizens free of charge. The contact tracing app has been commissioned by the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDPC) of Latvia and developed by information and communication technology specialists and researchers to help limit the spread of the virus safely and conveniently. Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) supported the initiative.
The app will notify users if they have come into close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 without disclosing the user's identity and location. It operates using Bluetooth and is available for devices with iOS or Android operating systems. Epidemiologists and researchers claim that the app provides significant support in identifying the risk and limiting the spread of the infection if even just 20% of the population uses it.
‘As long as there is no vaccine or medication available to protect people from contracting COVID-19, we have to learn to live with the virus. We have to keep adhering to the recommendations provided by epidemiologists and physicians. Latvian society has behaved responsibly and followed the restrictions imposed on them to limit the spread of the virus, which has lead to targeted control of coronavirus in Latvia. We are making another significant move towards a safer everyday by launching this app based on the latest technology. Latvian information and communication technology specialists in close cooperation with an initiative group proved that Latvia is capable of using technological innovations in a fast and efficient way to benefit society. I want to thank everyone who selflessly dedicated themselves to ensure that Latvian citizens would be able to protect themselves and their relatives. I call on everyone to get involved and utilise this opportunity,’ said the Latvian Prime Minister, Krišjānis Kariņš.
Using mobile apps to limit the spread of the coronavirus is a well-known and widely used practice in many countries. They contribute to preventing the spread of the virus by conducting significant studies and assisting inhabitants in taking care of their health. As in the case of Latvia, such apps in Europe are mainly intended to detect persons who have been in contact with someone who is ill and warn them. The Latvian app will notify people who have installed it if they have been within 2 metres of an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes.
The app is safe and does not use GPS data: smartphones with the Apturi COVID app will exchange signals, or digital "handshakes", via Bluetooth (a short-range wireless communication technology used for such devices as smartphones, wireless headsets and smartwatches), which will be encrypted on the user's phone. If one phone user becomes ill, others will be warned if they have been in contact with them. The infected person’s identity and the place where the contact took place will remain anonymous to the receiver. The CDPC will have access to the following data only with users’ permission and only if contact has been detected: phone number, contact date, signal strength, contact duration. The app will not, however, receive or store information about the user’s location and precise time of the contact. It should be added that Latvia is among the first countries to use contact-detecting software recently developed by Apple and Google to launch an app to limit the virus from spreading.
By downloading the Apturi COVID app, users can voluntary agree to contact the CDPC in case it is detected that they have been in contact with someone infected by COVID-19. Doing so the user will get information about self-isolation and how to monitor their health. The CDPC, on the other hand, will be able to outpace the virus by receiving data about potential contact persons quickly and limit future outbreaks of the virus. It is planned that the app will also offer recommendations and practical advice for contact persons and contain links to additional sources of information.
‘This app is the fastest way to find out if a person has been in contact with someone infected by COVID-19 and so be able to self-isolate quickly and avoid endangering others. Uses will also get help regarding symptoms and be able to seek medical assistance faster, if this becomes necessary. We think that this app can serve as a valuable tool to limit the spread of diseases in the future. At the moment, however, we are focusing on combatting COVID-19, and it can be done more efficiently if people participation and active get involved. The more citizens use the app, the more efficient it becomes,’ says Elīna Dimiņa, Head of the Infectious Diseases Surveillance and Immunization Division of the Infectious Diseases Risk Analysis and Prevention Department at the CDPC.
The app has been developed by LMT, MakIT, Autentica, TestDevLab, IT Centre, Zippy Vision, experts from the University of Latvia and Andris Bērziņš, the co-founder of TechHub Riga, in cooperation with Cert.lv and the Data State Inspectorate by observing European data protection principles and safety regulations. The Chancellery of the President, the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDPC) – the owners of the app, NATO StratCom, as well as health professionals and epidemiologists were also involved in the evaluation of the app.