Voluntary coronavirus tracking app planned for Ireland

Irish citizens will soon be able to download a voluntary app that lets the country’s health service track people’s movements and let others know if they have been in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.

Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) said it hopes it can get the app up and running within 10 days, roughly around the same time that infection rates are expected to peak in the country.

“This is a cross-government effort in relation to a very important piece of technology in fighting Covid-19,” said Paul Connors, HSE head of communications.

Similar initiatives have already been launched in the UK: Kings College released an app last week that lets people self-report their symptoms – whether they think they are infected or not – and the UK government has asked mobile networks to provide location data of their users in order to determine the effectiveness of its isolation protocols.

The Irish government is making contact tracing one of its priorities in order to slow the spread of the virus and not overwhelm its frontline healthcare services.

It has trained 1,400 people for manual contact tracing, which involves interviewing patients, and plans to increase that to 4,000, the HSE said. It is currently processing around 5,000 tests per day and plans to scale that up to 15,000 per day in the coming weeks.

Like much of Europe, Ireland has said its citizens must not leave the house or come into contact with others unless it’s to buy essentials such as food and medical supplies.

The country currently has 2,615 cases and has recorded 46 deaths. Its people have been ordered to stay home until at least April 12.

The Department for Health is due to update its projections on the number of acute hospital admissions later today. It is expected to forecast significantly lower figures than a recent internal worst-case scenario that was modelled by HSE experts.

The HSE is planning to turn a 750-room hotel into an isolation facility and is working under the assumption that Ireland will peak between April 10 and 14.

It has ordered tens of millions of face masks and eye protection equipment to be delivered between now and the end of May.

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