The European Commission published on 12 December a study on lessons learned, best practices and epidemiological impact of digital Covid-19 contact tracing applications.
The study carried out by empirica provides a comprehensive overview of the approach and lessons learned from EU-level actions on cross-border interoperability, coordination, implementation and the epidemiological impact of COVID-19 digital contact tracing apps.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries worldwide have increasingly used digital technologies in support of public health measures for contact tracing. In Europe, many contact tracing apps were developed and deployed within less than a year after the official declaration of the pandemic on 13 March 2020. 27 national digital contact tracing apps (21 Member States, 2 EEA countries, Switzerland and United Kingdom (3 apps)) were examined in this study, and details and statistics on each of them are presented in the Country Factsheets.
All digital contact tracing apps enable privacy-preserving proximity tracing by capturing interactions between smartphones of individuals based on Bluetooth Low Energy technology, and subsequently issue warnings about close contacts with persons who tested positive for coronavirus. 25 of the apps analysed in the study are open source and some re-used code or parts thereof.
Data analysis across the investigated countries reveals that, since their launch in 2020 and as of July 2022, the apps were adopted at a considerable scale. They collectively surpassed 206 million unique voluntary downloads, representing tens of millions of active users.
The collaboration between the Commission and EU Member States through the eHealth Network resulted in several guidelines for the development and deployment of the apps, including a Common EU Toolbox for Member States. In order to extend the reach of these apps to cross-border settings, a European Federation Gateway Service (EFGS) was set up in October 2020, allowing national apps to “talk” to each other and enable warning of citizens who travel to or stay in different Member States.
There is strong agreement among Member States that EU cooperation through the different working groups on digital contact tracing has helped reducing the burden of cross-border infection detection. Furthermore, it provided technical assistance, peer support, and learning from insights, practices, experiences and resulted in the reduction of implementation and operation costs of several national apps.
The efforts related to digital contact tracing demonstrated the ability of Europe to swiftly agree on and deliver an innovative and emerging technology to millions of users in a privacy-preserving manner, enabled by effective coordination and collaboration between participating countries.
Download the full study and the country factsheets
Contact: Birgit Morlion, DG Connect - unit H3