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Coronavirus: a common approach for safe and efficient mobile tracing apps across the EU

What is a contact tracing and warning app?

A contact tracing and warning app is voluntarily installed and used to warn users if they have been in proximity for a certain duration to a person who reported to have been tested positive of COVID-19. In case of an alert, the app may provide relevant information from health authorities such as advice to get tested or to self-isolate, and who to a contact.

Why do we need these apps?

Contact tracing is an essential intervention, alongside testing and isolation, in the effort to control the pandemic. Mobile tracing will complement traditional tracing that is done manually by public health authorities when they interview patients with symptoms, typically over the phone, to understand with whom they have been in contact over the past 48 hours.

Contact tracing apps may allow warning as many potential contacts as possible, thereby enabling them to take further steps that can help to break infection chains and thus quickly stop the virus from spreading further. Together with traditional tracing and complemented by other measures such as increased testing, voluntarily installed tracing apps can provide a valuable contribution to the gradual lifting of confinement measures.

What are the guidelines on cross-border interoperability about?

These are common and general principles aiming at ensuring that tracing apps can communicate with each other when required, so citizens can report a positive test or receive an alert, wherever they are in the EU and whatever app they are using. The guidelines will be complemented by a set of clear technological parameters to ensure swift implementation by developers working with national health authorities. The Commission is supporting Member States in finding the right solution to ensure secure, protected and interoperable contact tracing apps across Europe, in line with the principles set out in the EU toolbox and the Commission guidance on data protection.

Tracing apps must be voluntary, transparent, secure, interoperable and respect people's privacy. Apps will use arbitrary identifiers, no geolocation or movement data will be used. All apps have to be temporary only, so they will have to be dismantled as soon as the pandemic is over. And they should function everywhere in the EU, across borders and across operating systems. Interoperability is crucial, so that wide, voluntary take-up of national tracing apps can support the relaxing of confinement measures and the lifting of restrictions of freedom of movement throughout the EU.

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