Just 25% of postive Covid cases being uploaded to tracker app

Just 25% of postive Covid cases being uploaded to tracker app

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly at the launch of the Covid Tracker App in July 2020. The Covid app cost the HSE €850,000 to develop and was in gestation for four months before launching last summer. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos.

Only 25% of positive cases of Covid-19 have been reported by users of Ireland’s Covid tracker smartphone application, according to new research.

The study, compiled by Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith of Trinity College’s School of Science and Statistics, has raised serious questions about the impact and usage of the smartphone app, which was launched by the HSE to much fanfare last July. 

The app was designed to alert close contacts of positive Covid cases, but the research shows that the number of positive cases being uploaded is 75% below what would be expected, based on HSE figures since the app came into operation. 

In the past three months, reported positive cases on the app is 85% below what they should be, suggesting that just one in ten people using the app are uploading their positive status.

During the research, entitled ‘Irish Covidtracker App Key Upload Shortfalls’, some 198,202 positive cases of the coronavirus were noted by the HSE. However, over the same time period, just 12,881 such cases were notified by users of the app.

The researchers suggested that given the HSE’s stated overall base of 1.3 million active app users, the expected return of positive uploads should be 51,766.

“It is apparent that there are major and ongoing, currently unexplained, shortfalls in the number of uploads being seen compared to what one should expect based on the number of cases experienced and the density of app deployment in the Irish population,” the research said.

Dr Farrell said the research may indicate a general flaw in using tracker apps for the virus, acknowledging that such shortfalls have also been seen with the other tracker apps in use around Europe.

The app was designed to alert close contacts of positive Covid cases, but the research shows that the number of positive cases being uploaded is 75% below what would be expected, based on HSE figures since the app came into operation. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The app was designed to alert close contacts of positive Covid cases, but the research shows that the number of positive cases being uploaded is 75% below what would be expected, based on HSE figures since the app came into operation. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

He said that there could be a number of explanations for those shortfalls, from the cohort actively using the app — such as the elderly or people cocooning — never coming in contact with the virus to the possibility that poorer demographics in disproportionate contact with the disease not being able to afford the technology the app is carried upon.

“Whatever the reason, the shortfalls suggest the app is not effectively performing its primary function at present,” he said.

Dr Farrell also noted that the number of active users claimed by the HSE has been an even fixed value of 1,300,000 people since October 9.

The app is currently showing that just over 100,000 people are checking in regarding their symptoms status on a daily basis, or roughly 8% of all users.

The Covid app cost the HSE €850,000 to develop and was in gestation for four months before launching last summer.

The HSE said it is constantly working to improve the overall performance of testing and tracing operations. 

"An app efficacy review is underway which will provide information on the performance of Covid Tracker within the overall testing and tracing operation," a spokesperson said. 

"The app has been used by over 15,000 people who have tested positive to upload random IDs, this has resulted in notification of over 30,000 people. The actual number is higher as some people do not choose to share metrics or provide a phone number."

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