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Experts claim few benefits to Covid tracing app, paper reports

While the app was downloaded 2.3 million times, it has not significantly helped to track infection chains, Iltalehti reports.

Henkilön kädessä puhelin jossa koronavilkku sovellus.
Finland's coronavirus contact tracing app Koronavilkku on a smartphone. File photo. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

There have been few benefits from mobile device-based coronavirus tracing in Finland, according to an article in evening newspaper Iltalehti.

Not long after the country rolled out its coronavirus tracing application last year--the so-called Koronavilkku app (roughly translated as 'corona flash')--more than two million people downloaded and began using it.

But medical experts who were queried about Koronavilkku's benefits did not have much praise for the app, which was allocated around six million euros in last year's state budget.

The general consensus, according to the paper, was that its tracing abilities were limited.

Due to built-in limitations of the application, the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) does not receive information on how many people who were notified of a possible coronavirus exposure actually became infected.

In an aim to protect peoples' privacy, the app also does not store personal or location data of users, instead relying on anonymous identification codes which makes it impossible to monitor the ongoing status of alert recipients.

The system works by app users sending randomly generated codes via Bluetooth signal to each other when they come into close contact for at least 15 minutes. The smartphones then store anonymous information about the contact event.

Experts from four areas respond

The paper reached out to doctors in charge of infection-tracking in various parts of the country about the app's effectiveness, receiving responses from experts in Espoo, Vaasa, the Hospital District of Southwest Finland as well as the hospital district in Central Finland.

According to Iltalehti, there are about 2.3 million active users of the tracing app in Finland, which was first released late last summer. About 12,000 people have used the app to report they tested positive for Covid-19.

However, the paper reported that the number of others possibly exposed by that group remains unknown, noting that the tracing app did facilitate around 22,000 coronavirus symptom assessments at the online health service Omaolo.

The paper said the harshest criticism about the app came from Vaasa's chief physician, Heikki Kaukoranta. He said the information it provided was limited and only provided users with common information about safe distancing, mask use and how to arrange a coronavirus test.

Kaukoranta noted that data vital to contact tracking work is not provided to those exposed, nor to health care providers.

"All the information needed by trackers--like who, when and where--is not provided. It's kind of like if a car only had a single warning light for all of the vehicle's possible faults," Kaukoranta said.

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