UPDATE: Swiss government gives green light to new coronavirus tracking app

The amended Epidemics Act gives public health authorities the right to operate a proximity tracing system to contain the spread of the virus. The SwissCovid app will be introduced throughout Switzerland before the end of June, after being 'rigourously tested' in a pilot phase.

The process involves identifying contaminated people, so that measures can be taken to prevent the spread of infection on to others. It is all the more important in cases when the person has no symptoms and may not even know they are sick.

The use of the app is voluntary and free of charge but the authorities are hoping many people will install and use the app, because “it would help contain the coronavirus”, the Federal Council said.

As there is no Covid-19 vaccine at the present time, contact tracing is believed to be an effective strategy for breaking transmission chains and controlling the spread of disease.

Since there have been concerns among the public over data protection, the government stressed that “the system is designed to ensure anonymity. No one will be able to use the app to reconstruct who was in contact with whom”.

The SwissCovid app for smartphones (iOS/Android) was developed in collaboration with the Federal Office of Information Technology, Systems and Telecommunication (FOITT), and the Swiss federal institutes of technology in Lausanne and Zurich (EPFL and ETHZ). 

The app uses Bluetooth technology to detect other smartphones nearby and measure how long they are in the vicinity. It registers any other phone that is less than two metres away for more than 15 minutes. 

If a person using the app tests positive for the coronavirus, they can enter a code into their app, warning all other registered users who have been near the infected person.

This would allow those who receive such warning to get tested immediately and avoid any contact with others.

“However, even when the SwissCovid app is in use, it is vital that we continue to comply with the hygiene and social distancing rules. By combining the use of the app, conventional contact tracing and respecting the rules, we hope to prevent the virus from spreading again,” the authorities said.

This is important because health experts are predicting a second wave of Covid-19 infections to hit Switzerland in the summer or fall.

But “if we continue tracking the virus to control infections, and if the population continues to comply with hygiene and distancing measures, we might have only minor waves during the summer,” Didier Pittet, the head of the infection prevention and control service at Geneva's University Hospital (HUG), said in an interview this week. 

READ MORE: Covid-19: How severe will the second wave be in Switzerland?

As soon as the system is no longer required to combat the coronavirus, the Federal Council will take it out of service. 

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