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Privacy concerns are valid, but Covid-19 isn't gone yet



Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

It's ironic that the new Covid-19 contact tracing app was launched the day after the HSE reported no deaths and only four new cases of the virus.

These figures together with the massive number of downloads of the app are reassuring. By yesterday afternoon, more than 500,000 people had downloaded it and the number just keep rising.

The idea is simple. If you have been in contact with somebody with Covid-19, a notification will appear on your phone. You will then be urged to get tested.

As we now know only too well, every case can turn into a cluster, which has the potential to spread through a community.

The advice from Dr Ronan Glynn, the acting chief medical officer at the Department of Health, therefore couldn't be clearer: "If you are identified as a close contact, please take up the offer of a test without delay."

Despite the risks not everyone will, unfortunately. The HSE reported that from mid-May to the end of June, 35pc of those identified as a close contact of a confirmed case did not take up the test offer.

We are all encouraged to download the app and take the test if we receive a notification.

There are some concerns about the app's effectiveness and privacy but it is one extra weapon in the fight against the virus.

Its introduction does not lessen the need to follow the guidelines; physically distance, wash your hands regularly, use cough/sneeze etiquette and wear a face covering appropriately.

The app is an extra protection to stop the spread. Earlier versions were not entirely successful in some other countries.

Strong reassurances about the design of the app for Ireland and data protection arrangements have been given by the HSE and the Department of Health. Relevant documents have been made available on the HSE website in a good example of openness and transparency.

Users of the app who still have long-term concerns about data protection issues can always delete it from their phones later if and when the virus goes away.

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Most Irish people (74pc), however, think there will be a second wave, according to a survey conducted on behalf of the Department of Health. That percentage is up by 20pc in a single month.

The increase in anxiety is not surprising as we emerge from lockdown and look at what is happening in the rest of the world, especially countries that re-opened too soon and didn't have clear health messaging.

In the US there have been 132,000 deaths and 3,000,000 cases of infection. Dr Anthony Fauci, the top scientist on the White House coronavirus task force, has warned that the country is still "knee deep in the first wave". The US now has "record-breaking" numbers infected by the disease on a daily basis - not the kind of world record that President Trump likes to boast about.

Ireland is at the opposite end of the spectrum with declining new cases and deaths every week.

Let's keep it that way.

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