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EU's coronavirus 'gateway' connects contact tracing apps in Germany, Ireland and Italy

Daniel Wighton
·2-min read
File image of a health worker taking a sample swab to test for coronavirus - AP
File image of a health worker taking a sample swab to test for coronavirus - AP

Germany’s coronavirus-tracking app has begun to exchange warnings with similar apps from across Europe as part of an EU-led plan to internationalise contact tracing.

The technical frameworks of apps in Germany, Ireland and Italy are now compatible with each other due to the EU's "gateway" system, which allows contact tracing across borders.

Four more nations, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark and Latvia, are set to join the programme in the coming week, with the EU hoping for up to 16 members by the end of 2020.  

The United Kingdom looks set to be excluded from the scheme due to the country’s departure from the European Union.   The system is anonymous and does not allow the identification of individual people, nor can it track the location or movement of devices.

Jens Spahn, Germany's Federal Minister of Health, praised the collaborative effort amid rising case numbers.

“Everywhere in Europe, infections are on the rise again. Right now, national warning apps are making a real difference. Because every infection chain that, thanks to an app, is broken more quickly helps to contain the pandemic,” Spahn said in a statement.

“With the new gateway service, we are connecting apps across Europe. Like this, contacts can also be warned during or following a trip abroad.”

Stella Kyriakides, EU commissioner for health and food safety, praised the international functionality of the app, saying “when working across borders these apps are even more powerful tools”.

The Bluetooth-based app infrastructure is compatible for use with all countries who have adopted a decentralised and anonymous tracing system – the same system developed by Apple and Google and implemented in the UK’s NHS App – the UK’s acceptance into the framework is “unlikely” due to legal and political hurdles.

News websiteTech Crunch reports that in order to be allowed to join the project, the UK would need to negotiate and develop a separate legal agreement with the EU.   Switzerland and Norway, as non-EU members, would also be required to negotiate a separate arrangement in order to join the framework.

France and Hungary are also set to be excluded from the framework as their apps rely on a centralised data collection system.

After initially developing an app which relied upon centralised data storage, the UK changed track in June due to technical issues and delays. Germany made a similar switch in April,  mainly due to privacy concerns.