Launched during the peak of the pandemic in late March, ‘Stopp Corona’ – Austria’s coronavirus tracing app – is now preparing to go international.
The app was one of the first contact tracing apps launched anywhere in Europe. So whether you don’t have the app yet – or if you have it but want to know more – here’s what you need to know.
What does the app do?
Like other contact tracing apps, the goal of the Stopp Corona App is to “identify chains of infection and break them”.
The app tells users when they may have come into contact with someone who is positive with coronavirus, encouraging the recipient to isolate and get tested.
How does the app work?
As soon as someone reports a positive test to their app, the app is able to trace every other app user they have come into close contact with for more than 15 minutes.
These contacts are known as a “digital handshake”, with all contact data recorded.
Anyone who has come into contact with someone will receive a warning – either yellow or red – to notify them that they may be infected.
What are the yellow and red alert levels?
The app has two different types of warnings: yellow and red.
According to the Austrian government: “A yellow alert shows that someone you have been in contact with has developed coronavirus symptoms. The red alert means that someone you have been in close contact with (less than two metres) for longer than 15 minutes has tested positive.”
Will I be forced to isolate when receiving a warning?
When someone receives a warning, they are told to isolate – but unlike quarantine orders from doctors or the 1450 hotline, this is only a recommendation rather than a mandatory requirement.
Like most other contact tracing apps which have been deemed to be effective in Europe, the app uses a decentralised information storage system which sees data encrypted before being exchanged. This helps to protect privacy from app developers and other users.
This also means that the app is compatible with other apps used in EU nations.
When will the app be effective internationally?
As a decentralised app, it is compatible with the EU’s ‘Gateway’ system which went live in October.
Currently the International system has been set up in Germany, Ireland, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Latvia and Italy.
The EU hopes that 16 countries – including Austria – will be a part of the international framework by Christmas.
Who developed the app?
The app was developed by the Austrian Red Cross in collaboration with Apple and Google.
Is the app effective?
Having the app is of course better than not having it, but whether it is truly effective depends on a variety of things.
Initially, the app only worked in iPhones when the app was open, severely limiting its functionality. Now, it can work at any time provided bluetooth is activated.
The rollout of the app was also hampered by an earlier pledge by National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) to make the app compulsory.
According to Future Zone, this “caused irreparable damage to the image” of the app in Austria.
Why have so few people downloaded the app?
A major question relates to how many users the app has in order to be effective.
As at October 2020, the Stopp Corona App had just crossed one million downloads in a country of almost nine million people.
While a study from Oxford University from earlier in 2020 reportedly said such apps should be used by 60 percent of the population in order to be effective, the authors of the study say apps with a lower take-up rate can still be effective to some extent.
“Our models show that we can stop the epidemic if around 60 percent of the population use the app.”
“(However) Even with a smaller number of app users, we still estimate that the number of coronavirus cases and deaths would decrease with the help of tracing apps.”
In late October, Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober appealed to members of the public to download the app amid a fresh rise in case numbers and a national lockdown.
“Now is the time to take part. It is not a big effort and helps to protect yourself and others. The app is now recording 1.1 million downloads already, 1,100 'red warnings' have already been passed on, plus 2,100 'yellow warnings’.”
For perspective, Austria recorded more than 5,000 cases per day over the first week of November.
On what phones and platforms is the app available?
The app works on smartphones with platforms beginning at Android 6 and iPhones from iOS 13.5.
The app can be downloaded here.