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Top epidemiologist urges greater uptake of contact-tracing app

There are currently around 1.7 million active users of the SwissCovid app. Keystone / Anthony Anex

Switzerland needs a major communications push to bolster contact-tracing efforts, says epidemiologist Marcel Salathé, who led the development of the SwissCovid app.

This content was published on October 20, 2020 - 10:52
SRF/jdp

In an interview on Swiss public radio, SRFExternal link, Salathé said that after a surge in positive coronavirus cases it was time to intensify communication efforts around the app’s utility. Some 1.7 million people currently use the app, launched on June 25, which is below the Federal Office of Public Health’s aim of three million active users.

Salathé heads the Digital Epidemiology Lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).

In July the statistics office reported that the number of active users had begun dropping at a steady rate as positive cases waned over summer.

Salathé noted that some of the previous concerns about privacy had been put to rest. “People have now understood that it is an extremely secure app that can help support contact tracing,” he said.

According to SRF, about 130 positive cases had been found using the app, which Salathé said was a “very good start” and not necessarily lower than expected. If only 20% of Swiss use the app, and only 20% of contacts have the app, only 4% of all contacts are actually covered.

He said this showed that the app produced reliable results but to be more effective it needed more users. Other areas that needed improvement include the time between someone testing positive and cantonal authorities providing the person with a code to enter into the system. “We are in contact with the cantons on how this can be improved,” Salathé said.

After a spike in cases last week, some cantonal contact-tracing authorities reported being so overwhelmed that some people were left to alert contacts of a positive test result on their own. 

The SwissCovid app was the first in Europe to use the application programming interfaces of Google and Apple.

Government top ranks

In other Covid-related news, the head of the Swiss Armed Forces, Thomas Süssli, has tested positive for Covid-19 but is so far not experiencing any symptoms.

Süssli “is feeling well and is conducting business as much as possible from home”, according to a government statement on Monday. His deputy, Aldo Schellenberg, will provide support if needed.

This week Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr, - the cabinet manager who takes part in  government meetings, went into quarantine after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19. Economics Minister Guy Parmelin has been in quarantine since last week due to contact with someone who tested positive.

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