Making Science

Latvian contact tracing app is one of the first built on Apple & Google's COVID-19 API

David Murphy

A digital COVID-19 contact tracing app set to launch in Latvia next week will be one of the first apps of its kind built on Google and Apple's newly-released Exposure Notification API.

The app, called Apturi Covid – Stop Covid in English – is the fruit of a non-profit social initiative, built pro-bono by leaders in the country's vibrant ICT industry in just one month. It has been endorsed by a national government that has shown great flexibility and decisiveness when it comes to initiatives aimed at combating COVID-19.

Using Bluetooth, the app can detect and register other mobile devices that are in close proximity for a period of at least 15 minutes. All data is encrypted and stored directly on the device and is not accessible to the phone owner or other users of the app, ensuring GDPR compliance. It also ensures that processing of the exposure notification protocol is decentralized, as it takes place on the device rather than in a central server.

The stored data will only be put to use if a new COVID-19 case is detected. Without disclosing the infected person's identity, Apturi Covid will notify all users with whom the infected person has been in close contact. These people will be asked to avoid contact with others to prevent the spread of the disease.

''Thanks to restrictive measures and public participation, Latvia is the country with the third lowest incidence of COVID-19 in the European Union and low mortality, but we must not stop,” said El?na Dimi?a, head of the Infectious Diseases Surveillance and Immunization Division of the Infectious Diseases Risk Analysis and Prevention Department. “With the involvement of people and the use of modern technology, we can once again gain time and go a step further. The new app will allow epidemiologists to identify contacts more quickly.''

While use of the app is voluntary, it is estimated that it will initially be used by at least one fifth of the population. A recent study by Oxford University predicts that a 10 per cent to 20 per cent uptake is enough to have a positive effect on limiting the spread of the virus.

Adoption of the new Google and Apple API ensures that the user experience for the app will be the best possible, without the need for complex restrictions in order to maintain continuous use of Bluetooth. The developers believe that reliance on this standard will ensure widespread adoption and also compatibility over time with contact tracing apps around the world that are also expected to adopt the same exposure notification framework over time.

The app has been developed by representatives of the Latvian ICT sector and science, including the country's largest mobile operator LMT, software development companies MAK IT, Autentica and Zippy Vision, software testing service TestDevLab, experts from the University of Latvia, and startup community representative Andris K. Berzins. Several state institutions have also been involved: the President and the Chancellery of the President, the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC), NATO StratCom, as well as health professionals and epidemiologists.