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Radar Covid: What you need to know about the app Spain says you ‘must’ download

On Tuesday Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said residents "must" download "Radar Covid", the tracking app that will help authorities trace those who have been close to an infected person.

Radar Covid: What you need to know about the app Spain says you 'must' download
Radar Covid is the track and trace app Photo: AFP

Last month Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said residents “must” download “Radar Covid”, the tracking app that will help authorities trace those who have been close to an infected person.

It is currently being rolled out in regions across Spain after a pilot test in La Gomera and is now up an running across 75 percent of Spain and is available to download on Apple and Android app stores.

So far it is up and running in 14 of Spain's autonomous regions plus the North African enclave of Melilla and although it should have been fully functioning across all of Spain by September 15th, there are still three regions and Ceuta where it has yet to be fully incorporated with the health system.

The map below shows in purple those places where it is up and running as of Thursday September 17th according to the Spanish government. It's launch has reportedly been delayed in the Basque Country because of the inclusion of the Basque language.  

How does it work?

Once downloaded onto a mobile device it uses Bluetooth technology to connect and collect data from other handsets with the app after they have been in close proximity for a prolonged period.

So if two handsets are within two metres of each other for at least 15 minutes the data is swapped and stored for a period of two weeks from that meeting.

If one of those people then tests positive to Covid-19 within two weeks, they are given a code which, when entered into the app, will send an alert to all those whose data has been swapped and therefore could be at risk.

All this is done in an anonymous way, that is without the identity of any of those who have connected being revealed to each other.

What about privacy?

No personal information or location data is exchanged by Radar Covid which uses anonymous identifiers that change frequently in order to protect against violations of privacy.

Basically, when the application is active, it generates a daily random key from which identifiers are created that change after 10 to 20 minutes and are transmitted to nearby mobiles via Bluetooth. These codes do not contain any personal identifier that can make it easier to recognize the device or the person to whom the mobile belongs.

What if you test positive?

If you receive a positive result from a PCR test, the medical authorities will issue a number that when entered into the app will send a message to all those considered at risk – those were picked up by your phone as spending at least 15 minutes within two metres from you. Sometimes this will be someone you know but equally it may be a stranger who sat on the next table from you on a terrace while you had coffee.

They will be sent a message telling them that they could be at risk and need to take a test, they will not be told when or where the contagion may have happened or who they may have caught it from.

How effective a tool is it?

PM Pedro Sanchez claimed in a televised address at the end of August that “according to the estimations we have, if more than 20 percent (of the nation) downloads the app, it could reduce the impact of the pandemic by 30 percent.”

But ideally, the app will be most effective if downloaded by 60 percent of the population according to a study on contract tracing from University of Oxford.

The pilot test in the Canary Island of La Gomera staged a simulated outbreak which showed that the app was able to identify almost double the number of close contacts put at risk of contagion compared to efforts carried out by human tracers.

More than 4 million people had downloaded the Spanish app by September 15th, according to Carme Artigas, head of Spain's state digital and artificial intelligence unit. That's halfway to the minimum 20 percent target set by Sanchez last month. 

Is it easy to understand?

The app will give you the option of operating it in Castellano, Catalan and English, so that makes things easier for those who aren't yet fluent in Spanish or who are just visiting. 

Shortcomings

The app isn't up and running in all regions of Spain yet. And obviously it  has limitations. It only detects those who you spent a minimum of 15 minutes with, discounting those who may have been in close contact for 14 minutes and 59 seconds! 

It also will not detect or alert those people who, heaven forbid, don't have a mobile phone – or those who haven't downloaded the app. And in Spain that tends to be those of an advanced age, who may then spread it to others of an advanced age – a community that we know is most at risk from suffering serious consequences from catching the virus. 

It may also create false positives by alerting those who you may have been in close proximity to but not actually crossed paths, such as connecting to a neighbour through the wall or window without having spent any time in the same space.  

It is unavaliable to those with older mobile phones because it requires at least an Android 6 or iOS 13.5 operating system- and estimated 3 million people have handsets that are too old and therefore not compatible with the app. 

But still, it's currently the best hope for a track and trace system that Spain has to offer, although the government also announced that it will be training soldiers to step in and help trace in the worst hit regions. 

READ MORE: 

Member comments

  1. Why would they chose one of the least inhabited islands of Spain and one of the most distant from the rest of civilisation to test this app? This is the island that most young people leave to go and work in Tenerife and just leave behind the octogenarians, who probably don’t even own a mobile, let alone a smart one. Many of them still use Silbo Gomero to communicate with one another! Amazing natural island but a very strange choice.

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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