What is a coronavirus tracing and warning app?
Most public health authorities in the EU have developed apps that support contact tracing and warning in the fight against coronavirus. The apps notify you if you have been at risk of exposure to the virus over the last 14 days, whether or not you feel symptoms. You will then get appropriate health advice. This helps to minimise the spread of the virus and speed up a return to normal life within the EU. Furthermore, you can get tested and receive any necessary treatment promptly and lower the risk of serious consequences, if you get alerted at an early stage.
Tracing and warning apps are part of a package of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, along with hygiene measures such as hand washing, social distancing and using everyday facemasks.
Why using a coronavirus tracing and warning app?
A tracing and warning app can help break the chain of coronavirus infections, nationally and across borders, and help save lives by complementing manual tracing. The faster people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and their contacts can be informed, the less quickly and widely the virus can spread. The app therefore help to protect yourself, your family, your friends and everyone around you.
If you use an official app available in your country, developed with the health authorities, you can trust them and use them without concerns. More information also on re-open EU.
How does a coronavirus tracing and warning app work?
A coronavirus tracing and waring app informs you if you have been, for a certain period, close, to another app user who was confirmed infected with COVID-19. Such an encounter would be considered a high-risk exposure. Typically, this means a contact for more than 15 minutes and less than 2 meters. The exact parameters are set by national health authorities.
When you have installed the app, your smartphone generates random ‘keys’ multiple times a day. These keys are exchanged through Bluetooth between nearby smartphones running a tracing app, and stored on the device for 14 days.
In case you are tested positive for COVID-19, you can share this information to warn the people you have previously been close to. Your phone will then share the keys generated during the last 14 days with the backend server of your national app.
On the basis of the keys received, each app calculates the risk score of a user, who may receive an exposure alert if the criteria are met.
What data will I share when using these apps?
The apps generate arbitrary identifiers, which are random sets of numbers and letters. These arbitrary identifiers do not allow the identification of an individual person. The keys are exchanged via Bluetooth between phones at short distance. No geolocation or movement data are used.
Do tracing apps use a lot of data or battery?
Once you have downloaded the app, its data usage is minimal. You should also not notice a significant difference in terms of battery life, nor should your smartphone overheat. The contact and warning app runs in the background. It uses Bluetooth Low Energy, a technology designed to be particularly energy efficient.
Can I use the app without internet connection?
For the tracing functionality as such, a permanent Internet connection is not necessary. Bluetooth, which is used to detect proximity with other app users, does not require Internet. It would even work in flight mode if you switch on Bluetooth during the flight. However, the app does need to connect to the internet at least once a day to download the information necessary to check if you have been exposed to other, infected users. Hence, to check infection chains, to receive alerts, and for additional functionalities, the apps will need to connect through mobile Internet or Wi-Fi.
Is the exposure notification automatic?
The apps work in the background of the device without requiring any daily action. Notifications come in automatically. You do not have to activate updates manually, however you need to have the exposure notification function switched on.
May I use several national coronavirus tracing and warning apps at the same time?
No. Using two or more apps at the same time is not possible as the Google/Apple exposure notification interface always supports only one tracing app at a time. Thanks to the EU interoperability gateway service, citizens can use one single app even when they travel cross-borders, while continuing to benefit from contact tracing and being able to report a positive test or to receive an alert.
- In case of a notification
What should I do if I receive an alert?
Receiving a contact alert does not necessarily mean you have been infected with COVID-19. An alert is a simple way of making you aware that there is a risk of exposure to coronavirus. The app will guide you on what you should do, according to the instructions of national health authorities, such as advice to get tested or to self-isolate, and who you have to contact.
Which criteria are used to assess exposure risk levels?
Potential exposures happen when you encounter, for a certain amount of time and at a certain distance, a person who has reported being infected with the virus. Bluetooth technology is used to determine whether or not an encounter is close and long enough to result in a potential exposure. There are typically three levels of risk:
Low risk: The app user had no encounter with anyone known to have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or if they have had such an encounter it was not close and/or long enough according to the criteria. The user is informed about generally applicable social distancing regulations and hygiene recommendations.
Increased risk: The user is informed that the check of their exposure logging has shown an increased risk of infection, as they have encountered at least one person in the last 14 days who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The person is recommended to stay at home if possible, and to seek advice from their general practitioner or local health authorities.
Unknown risk: If the risk identification has not been activated for long enough by the person, then no risk of infection can be calculated yet. Risk identification is possible within 24 hours of installation, at which point the status information displayed changes from “unknown risk” to “low risk” or “increased risk”.
Can the app warn me how to avoid contact with people who tested positive?
No, the app cannot predict such contacts or detect risky contact in real time. To protect user privacy, no app user can be identified or located using the app, and no app can detect whether there is an infected person in, for example a supermarket. The app is no substitute for the usual necessary precautions, like wearing a mask.
- EU interoperability gateway: contact tracing across borders
How do coronavirus tracing and warning apps work across borders?
Coronavirus does not stop at borders. This is why Member States, supported by the Commission, were working on an interoperability solution for national contact tracing and warning apps, to allow citizens to use one single app when they travel abroad in Europe, while continuing to benefit from contact tracing and being able to receive an alert.
At the request of Member States, the Commission has set up an interoperability gateway service, an interface to efficiently receive and pass on relevant information from national contact tracing apps. It will ensure the secure and efficient cross-border exchange between participating apps while keeping mobile data usage to a minimum.
How does the exchange of data between the apps work?
The individual coronavirus tracing and warning apps only connect to their own national backend server. The national backend servers do not connect directly with each other. They exchange the information via the EU interoperability gateway service, which reduces data consumption compared with direct exchanges between participating apps.
The exchange consists of two main parts: Uploading of national keys to the gateway server takes places if users upload their keys and have agreed with sharing them with other European app users; downloading of keys to the national backend server is required so that the keys can be distributed to the users of the individual national app.
What is the EU interoperability gateway service?
The interoperability gateway service (gateway) is a digital infrastructure that ensures the secure transmission of generated keys between the backend servers of participating national contact tracing and warning apps. While doing so, the gateway will share the minimum information necessary for a person to be alerted if they have been exposed to an infected person also using one of the participating apps.
The data exchanged will only be stored in the gateway for a maximum period of 14 days. No other information except the keys, generated by the national apps, will be handled by the gateway.
The design of the gateway builds on the guidelines for interoperability, the set of technical specifications agreed between Member States and the Commission, the principles set out in the EU toolbox and the Commission and European Data Protection Board guidelines on data protection for contact tracing and warning apps.
The gateway was developed and set up by companies T-Systems and SAP, and is operated from the Commission’s data centre in Luxembourg.
Are all contact tracing apps interoperable?
The gateway ensures a safe exchange of information between contact tracing apps based on a ‘decentralised’ architecture. This concerns the vast majority of tracing apps that were, or are to be, launched in the EU. Apps that are interoperable can exchange information among themselves, so people in the EU only need install one app – typically the app of their home country – and still be able to report a positive test or to receive an alert, even if they travel in the EU.
What is the difference between ‘centralised’ and ‘decentralised’ apps?
Confronted with the new potential of smartphones to combat the coronavirus pandemic, developers discussed mainly two different ways of how to set up contact tracing and waring apps, typically referred to as ‘decentralised’ and ‘centralised’ architectures. In both approaches, smartphones exchange temporary keys via Bluetooth and communicate with a central server. The main difference is in the calculation of the exposure risk of users and the storage of the data. Regardless of the approach, none of the tracing apps track location or movements
In a centralised system, a central server receives the keys of the contacts collected by users confirmed with COVID-19, and the server does the matchmaking to alert users at risk.
In a decentralised approach, the keys of the contacts remain on the phone. The app downloads the arbitrary keys of COVID-19 infected users and checks whether there is a match, directly on the device. The decentralised approach uses a joint interface provided by Apple and Google (see below). In the end, almost all national health authorities in the EU opted for a decentralised app, and these apps are all potentially interoperable.
Which national apps are, or will be, linked to the gateway?
About two third of EU Member States have developed compatible tracing and warning apps, and the gateway is open to all of them, once they are ready to connect. The connection will gradually take place during October and November, however apps can also connect at a later stage if national authorities wish so. An ‘onboarding protocol’ has been developed, setting out the necessary steps.
While your app is able to detect proximity with other participating apps everywhere in the world, including during flights in a plane, it does of course matter if people around you also have access to and use a participating app.
The overview of participating countries is updated regularly and available here.
What about if I did a test in another EU country?
You can only insert a positive coronavirus test result in the app of the country where the test was taken. However, when you enter the code in that app, thanks to the interoperability, citizens from the country that you have visited will get notified that they have been in close contact of an infected case.
I never travel anywhere. Do I need to take part in interoperability?
Downloading and using an app is voluntary, and participating in the interoperability framework is as well. To do so, you need to agree to your data being processed. However, even if you do not intend to travel, other people may do so, and you may be close to them without knowing. Therefore, interoperability also benefits those who stay in their home country.
Do I need to download a new app to benefit from interoperability?
No. You can continue to use your national app. Most EU Member States have decided to set up a national coronavirus tracing and warning app, and almost all of those have opted for a decentralised system – all these apps are potentially interoperable and can connect to the gateway, once they are ready. Once an app gets connected to the gateway, an update needs to be issued in the app stores so the additional functionality can be used. Users need to install that update so that their app works cross-border.
How do I update the app?
If your phone is set to update automatically, your tracing app will update automatically within a few days of the update being released. If you want to update manually:
- For iPhone users, open the App Store and tap ‘Today’ at the bottom of the screen. Then tap your profile icon to bring up your Account. Scroll down until you see your national app and then tap ‘Update’.
- For Android users, open the ‘Play Store’ and tap on the three horizonal lines at the top-left of the screen to open the sidebar. Open ‘My apps & games’ and select the ‘Updates’ tab. Then scroll down to your national app and tap ‘Update’.
- Privacy and security
Can tracing apps be used by authorities to monitor quarantine?
No, this is technically impossible. Contact tracing and warning apps do not gather any location or movement data.
How is my privacy protected?
Throughout the entire process of design and development of contact and warning tracing apps, respect for privacy has been of paramount importance:
- The app does not collect any data that could lead to unveiling your identity. It does not ask for and cannot obtain your name, date of birth, address, telephone number, or email address.
- The app does not collect any geolocation data, including GPS data. It also does not track any movements.
- The Bluetooth Low Energy code is generated completely randomly and does not contain any information about you or your device. This code changes several times each hour, as a further protection.
- All data stored by the app on your smartphone, and all connections between the app and the server, and between the servers and the gateway, are encrypted.
- All data, whether stored on your device or on the server, is deleted when no longer relevant, i.e. 14 days after transfer between app and server.
- The data is stored on secure backend servers, managed by national authorities. The gateway uses a secure server, hosted by the Commission in its own data centre in Luxembourg.
- EU rules, notably the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the ePrivacy Directive, provide the strongest safeguards of trustworthiness (e.g. voluntary approach, data minimisation).
- The apps – as well as the gateway – are time-limited, that means they will only be in place as long as the pandemic persists.
- The European Data Protection Board was consulted on the draft guidance and issued a letter to welcome the Commission’s initiative to develop a pan-European and coordinated approach.
Will personal data be shared between Member States through the gateway?
The Commission developed with Member States a privacy preserving interoperability protocol. If an app from one Member State is to work in another Member State, some encrypted data will be shared with the server of that other Member State. All backend servers are under the control of the competent national authority. Each app must be fully compliant with the EU data protection and privacy rules, following the Commission’s guidance.
- App usage information
How will we know that tracing apps are working?
Member States are monitoring and evaluating the apps and their contribution to the fight against the pandemic. The Commission, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, is assisting Member States to identify a series of assessment criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of the apps. Some of those criteria could include, for example, the uptake of the app as a percentage of population and number of users notified of potential exposure.
Currently, download rates range from below 10% to above 40%, depending on the Member State. But even at low uptake, apps can make a difference, according to researchers – and each notification is a life potentially saved.
What are the minimum device requirements?
All coronavirus tracing and warning apps should be accessible to everybody. They can be used on the vast majority of devices with commonly used operating systems. The required update to the relevant operating system (iOS, Android) is usually carried out automatically on smartphones. The apps run on iOS smartphones from the iPhone 6s upwards using iOS 13.5, and on Android-based smartphones from Android 6 upwards. If the result of your COVID-19 test is verified via QR code, the camera on your phone must be functional.
What role do Apple and Google play?
Almost all, that is 99% of smartphones in the EU, run on iOS or Android mobile operating systems. In the context of the development of contact tracing and warning apps, Apple and Google provided a uniform standard for Bluetooth distance measurement. This was important so apps running on the two main operating systems would be able to register each other’s Bluetooth signal. Furthermore, the companies needed to ensure that the Bluetooth signal continues to operate passively in the background in battery-saving mode, even if the apps is not actively used. National apps based on a ‘decentralised’ architecture rely on this basic functionality – these are interoperable and can be linked to the gateway.
G20 leaders united to address major global pandemic and economic challenges
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and President of the European Council, Charles Michel, represented the EU at the 15th G20 Leaders’ summit hosted by Saudi Arabia on 21-22 November 2020.
G20 leaders met in virtual format to address the way forward how to tackle together the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, finance the development and deployment of a vaccine as well as continue the support to citizens and businesses struggling to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic.
President von der Leyen said: “I am glad that G20 leaders agreed to make Covid-19 vaccines available and affordable for all. But more funding is needed. This is why I called G20 Leaders to commit to fund 4.5 billion US dollars for the ACT-Accelerator by the end of the year. G20 leaders also agreed to maintain economic measures until the recovery is firmly on the way. As a lesson from the crisis we need to step up global preparedness. We will discuss this again in May 2021 at the joint G20 Global Health Summit in Italy. To build back a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient world we also need to step up actions to fight climate change. The EU leads the way to climate neutrality by 2050 and many G20 partners now have taken the same commitments.”
G20 leaders also discussed how to build back better and pave the way for an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future. President Michel said: “COVID-19 has come as a surprise to many of us. But it is not the first global pandemic. And sadly, it will not be the last. Looking ahead, the global community has to be better prepared for pandemics. An international Treaty on Pandemics could help us respond more quickly and in a more coordinated manner when they occur. It should be negotiated with all UN organizations and agencies, in particular the WHO. The WHO must remain the cornerstone of global coordination against health emergencies.”
They also discussed a number of other crucial global issues such as the economic recovery, the reform of the WTO, the taxation of the digital economy and how to support low-income countries.
Following the two days Summit, Leaders adopted the G20 Riyadh Declaration to address common global challenges.
On COVID-19, the EU championed a multilateral solution to the coronavirus pandemic. EU leaders called on the G20 to uphold and deepen its commitment to fight the COVID-19 crisis, notably by ensuring the affordable and equitable access for all people of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiative and its COVAX facility are the main tools to do so.
On climate change, the Summit agreed on a unified paragraph in the G20 Riyadh Declaration, after three consecutive G20 Summits where such consensus could not be reached. EU leaders urged all G20 members to work towards the full and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. The EU also promoted a recovery based on green, inclusive, sustainable, resilient and digital growth in line with the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.
On debt relief for the most fragile countries, Leaders reconfirmed their support through the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative that will provide debt relief and free resources to fight the pandemic. They committed to implementing the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) including its extension through June 2021. EU leaders stressed that additional steps might be needed, and the Summit endorsed a common multilateral framework for further debt treatments.
On trade and taxation of the digital economy, Leaders recalled their support to the WTO reform process in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference and recognized the contribution that the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO has made. They also agreed to strive to find a consensus-based solution for a globally fair, sustainable, and modern international tax system by mid-2021, built on the ongoing work of the OECD.
Over €280 million in EU funding for environment, nature and climate action projects
The European Commission has approved an investment package of more than €280 million from the EU budget for over 120 new LIFE programme projects. This EU funding will trigger total investments of nearly €590 million to help meet these projects’ ambitious goals for environment, nature, and climate action. This amount represents a 37% rise compared to last year.
The projects will help to achieve the European Green Deal objectives by supporting the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the Circular Economy Action Plan, contributing to the green recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic, and helping Europe become a climate-neutral continent by 2050, among others. Many of the new projects are cross-country projects involving several Member States.
Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal said: “The European Green Deal is our roadmap to a green, inclusive, and resilient Europe. LIFE projects epitomise these values as they bring together Member States for the protection of our environment, the restoration of nature, and support of biodiversity. I’m looking forward to the results of these new projects.”
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries added: “LIFE projects can really make a tangible difference on the ground. They bring solutions to some of the most serious challenges of our time such as climate change, loss of nature and unsustainable use of resources. If replicated across the EU at speed and scale, they can help the EU achieve its ambitious EU Green Deal goals and contribute to building a greener and more resilient Europe for all of us, but also for generations to come.”
Approximately €220 million are allocated to a wide range of projects on environment and resource efficiency, nature and biodiversity, and environmental governance and information and over €60 million to support climate change mitigation, adaptation and governance and information projects.
This includes major investments aimed at protecting and enhancing Europe’s biodiversity. Projects such as restoring peatlands – unique ecosystems home to many highly adapted, rare and threatened species – will contribute to the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. Peatlands are also an important carbon sink, and can boost Europe’s drive toward climate neutrality by 2050.
The LIFE projects also support reducing energy consumption in new buildings, in line with the recently launched EU Renovation Wave Strategy. Funds will go into developing universal and affordable low-carbon solution that could reduce energy consumption in all new buildings by up to 40%.
Funds will also go towards projects that prevent food waste and lead to improved waste management in line with the new EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan.
Financial resources are also being earmarked for numerous projects that will help energy-intensive industries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Commission’s ambitious Climate Target Plan and our climate neutrality objective.
The numbers in brief
- 34 LIFE nature & biodiversity projects will support the implementation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives as well as the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030. They have a total budget of €221 million, of which the EU will pay €133 million.
- 47 LIFE environment and resource efficiency projects will mobilise €208 million, of which the EU will provide €76 million. These projects cover actions in five areas: air, environment and health, resource efficiency and circular economy, waste, and water.
- 8 LIFE environmental governance and information projects of nearly €17 million with just over €9 million EU contribution will raise awareness of environmental issues among the wider public and help public authorities to promote, monitor and enforce compliance with EU environmental legislation.
- 16 LIFE climate change mitigation projects will have a total budget of approximately €86 million, of which just under €32 million from the EU.
- 15 LIFE climate change adaptation projects will mobilise €50 million, €26 million of which will come from EU funds.
- 3 LIFE climate governance and information projects will improve governance and raise awareness about climate change with a total budget of €7 million of which the EU is contributing just under €4 million.
Project descriptions and more details can be found in the Annex to this press release.
The projects were selected among more than 1250 applications submitted under the LIFE 2019 call for proposals, published in April 2019. The LIFE programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action. It has been running since 1992 and has co-financed more than 5 500 projects across the EU and in third countries. At any given moment, some 1 100 projects are in progress. The budget for 2014–2020 is set at €3.4 billion in current prices. For the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027, the Commission is proposing to increase LIFE funding by almost 60%.
Commission holds first meeting of EU COVID-19 national scientific advice platform
President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed Member States’ COVID-19 scientific advisors to the first meeting of the EU scientific advice platform on COVID-19. The platform will facilitate more co-ordinated scientific advice on the approach to Member State COVID-19 public health measures across the EU. It complements the President’s COVID-19 advisory panel and the work of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Today’s meeting was chaired by Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, with Professor Peter Piot, Special Advisor to the President on COVID-19, also in attendance.
The scientific advisors discussed the most effective settings for the use of rapid antigen tests and the most effective application of isolation and quarantine to control the spread of the virus. Their discussions on these and future items will inform the content and co-ordination of EU and Member State policy, and complements existing sources of scientific advice from EU agencies and other sources.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “To beat coronavirus, we need the best scientists to join forces and find solutions against this virus, fast. This is why we are bringing together Europe’s top scientific advisors to debate and advise on the best way ahead on matters such as testing or isolation. This will help identify the most effective measures and will boost a coordinated approach across the European Union.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said:” Since the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, the most significant challenge has been the coordination of national measures. Today’s launch of the scientific platform with top advisors from all our Member States will play a crucial role in ensuring that important decision on measures that affect the daily lives of our citizens, such as testing or quarantines, are based on the best available scientific knowledge and are well coordinated across the Union.”
President von der Leyen and the EU-27 leaders will discuss the outcomes of the first platform meeting during their videoconference, 19 November.
During their videoconference on 29 October, EU heads of state or government and President von der Leyen decided to set up the platform, which will meet on a regular and as necessary basis. The platform complements the advisory panel set up by the Commission on 17 March 2020 to formulate science-based EU response guidelines and coordinate risk management measures.
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