It was trail-blazed in August as “fundamental” in the fight to combat Covid-19. Authorities appealed to everyone living in Portugal to download the StayAway Covid app designed to ‘ping’ warnings to people if they had been in contact with anyone subsequently diagnosed with Covid.19 (click here). But five months on and 60% of the people who did what they were asked have ‘uninstalled’ the app.
Say reports, the Portuguese have lost confidence in the technology.
“Doctors don’t know how to work with the app, and they don’t value it”, José Manuel Mendonça, president of Inesc Tec. the engineering company that developed it has complained.
To be fair, the failure is shared by multiple tech outfits. Even last summer, Deutsche Welle was reporting that although “scores of digital contract tracing apps have been developed around the world in an attempt to stem the pandemic” many have floundered “and for those that haven’t, it’s still not clear if they are that effective”.
In Portugal’s case, StayAway Covid was further ‘damaged’ by the government’s attempt to make its download ‘mandatory’ (click here).
The bid created a storm of outrage – as well as a run on ‘dumbphones’ (those that do not connect with the internet) – before the plan was dropped.
Since then, the popularity of StayAway has plummeted – and due to failure of doctors to ‘embrace it’, its potential as a tool to help stem the spread of the virus has been lost.
According to José Manuel Mendonça, “the country is losing an opportunity to avoid more contagions”.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people who use the App, who are diagnosed as positive but who are not given the codes to introduce into it to advise the contacts of risk that they have had”, he tells journalists.
This is because doctors “don’t know how the application works”.
Since September, despite the large numbers of people who initially downloaded the App, only 2,700 codes have been sent out.
Mr Mendonça points the finger at the health services.
“This is the responsibility of the health service and the doctors”, he said. But the doctors “are unaware, they do not value” the technology and “this time more than ever it could be making a difference”.
Indeed, Mr Mendonça went as far to say that if the app had been used as widely and correctly as intended, “it could have helped minimize the problem we have now”.
This is actually the first we have heard about the progress (or otherwise) of contact-tracing apps since prime minister António Costa referred to a plan by Brussels to link every country’s digital system on one European Federation Gateway so that citizens could ‘travel in safety’ (click here).