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Top official wants to improve efficiency of Covid tracing app

Woman holding a mobile phone with Covid tracing app
The Swiss Covid app using decentralised technology to preserve privacy was launched about a month ago. Keystone/Laurent Gillieron

The Swiss Covid-19 tracing device has great potential, but its efficiency still needs be evaluated, according to a senior government advisor.

“It’s crucial to know how people get infected with the virus,” says Martin Ackermann, designated head of the scientific taskforce set up by the Swiss government to coordinate advice and research on the virus.

He said it is still not clear how many people are infected when they are notified by the Covid application on their mobile phones. So far, about 200 infected people have entered a “Covidcode” into the system.

In an interview with newspapers of the CH-Media group, Ackermann praised the app as an important element in the fight against the pandemic, but he said there was still some way to go to convince more people to use it. Ackermann is set to take over at the helm of the taskforce in August, succeeding Matthias Egger.

Over two million people in Switzerland – a country with about 8.5 million residents – have downloaded the tracing app over the past month. However, it has been losing ground recently; as of July 22, there were 1.15 million users, announced the federal health office on Thursday. Due to political differences with the European Union, the Swiss device is not compatible with tracing systems in other countries.

Risk countries

Ackermann said he was optimistic about the situation in Switzerland despite a reported average of 100 infections a day. He said no further curbs were necessary for the population as long as the rate of new viral infections remains stable.

“It’s worth making a special effort to keep the number of infections low as it also helps minimise economic costs and restrictions for individuals,” he told a news conference on Wednesday. 

Ackermann dismissed calls for a more thorough tracking of people who return to Switzerland from countries considered at risk, saying it was not possible to check every passenger at airports and borders.

But he said public communication had to be improved about the risks of travelling to such countries.

The quarantine list was expanded from 29 to 42 countries with effect from Thursday. Mexico and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been added but Sweden has been removed.

Stefan Kuster, head of communicable diseases at the Federal Office of Public Health, dismissed criticism about a perceived lack of controls at the borders. He stressed the preventive impact of the quarantine list and called on people’s sense of responsibility. 


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