Immuni: Here’s what you need to know about using Italy’s contact-tracing app

The Italian government has begun a media campaign encouraging people to download the country's Covid-19 track and trace app as infection rate rises again. But does it work, and are there privacy risks? Here's what you need to know.

Immuni: Here's what you need to know about using Italy's contact-tracing app
Are you using Italy's contact-tracing app yet? Photo: AFP

More than seven million people in Italy have now downloaded the Immuni app since it was launched in June, as local media reports a spike in downloads last weekend.

With new cases of coronavirus rising again in Italy, the government says more people need to use Immuni if the country is to avoid a second wave of contagion, and the increased restrictions that would come with it.

READ ALSO: What will change in Italy’s October emergency decree?

The Italian government on Monday launched an awareness campaign aimed at encouraging people to use the app, which it says is “a valid contribution to the fight against Covid-19: free and totally anonymous, it helps to break the chain of contagion, alerting the user of risk of contact with positive cases.”

As health authorities have pointed out, the more people download the contact-tracing app, the better it will become at notifying users of whether they may have been in contact with an infected person.

However, many in Italy have so far been resistant to downloading the app, citing concerns about privacy or saying it simply doesn't work properly.

Coverage of the app is higher in some Italian regions than others, with notably fewer downloads in the south overall, according to the app's creators.

So what do you need to know before you decide whether to download it? Here's a closer look.

How does it work?

The app works using bluetooth, and communicates with oher devices which also have the app installed. 

If two smartphones with the app installed are less than one metre apart, they exchange automatically generated codes which make it possible to trace previous contacts in case one of the users is diagnosed with the virus.

Immuni is free and downloading it is of course voluntary.

Should I be concerned about privacy?

The app doesn't require any personal data and does not connect with other apps on your phone.

After installation, the app asks for your location. After that, “the system will function automatically”, according the app's official website.

When local health authorities register a new case of coronavirus, they can add a code into the system, with the consent of the patient.

READ ALSO: How to get a coronavirus test in Italy

Photo: AFP

The system then sends notification to users who have been in close contact with the positive case.

The codes are anonymous and don’t contain personal information about the users, health authorities said.

“It is an innovative, technological support to the initiatives the government has already put into place to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus,” said a joint statement by the ministries of health and of innovation when the app launched in June.

“It was developed in compliance with Italian and European legislation to protect privacy.”

According to the app's creators, data collected will be stored on the device itself, and not transmitted to a central server.

The system will not trace movements and data can only be shared with the user’s permission. Any data collected and shared with the central server will be deleted by December 31st, 2020.

“Immuni's sole purpose is to help cope with the epidemic. The project is not for profit, and in no case will your data be sold or used for any commercial purpose, including profiling for advertising purposes,” the official website states.

What happens if I get a notification?

An exposure risk notification looks like a little red dot appearing at the top of your screen, which reads: “Risk of exposure detected. Find out what to do”.

Immuni has two suggestions: immediately notify your doctor and in the meantime isolate yourself until you can get tested, or alternatively, ignore the message  – “but we strongly advise you not to do this”, it says.

According to one report from a user who got a positive notification from the app, after notifying their doctor they were tested a few hours later.

“By being alerted early, users can contact their general practitioner and, therefore, lower the risk of serious consequences,” the app's website states.

One complaint users have however is that the app can take a long time to notify them of potential contact with an infected person. In the case described above, they got the notification 15 days later,

How do I use Immuni?

You can download the app here.

You do not need to be an Italian resident: authorities recommend that you download and use it whenever you're in Italy, whether you live here or are just visiting.

The app is currently available in English, Italian, German, French, and Spanish according to the website's FAQ.

“The app uses the same language that’s set on  the user's smartphone, where available,” it says.

The app only works within Italy.

You can find further details, in Italian or English, at


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Public vs private: What are your healthcare options in Italy?

A doctor’s visit in Italy can mean a long wait - unless you pay to skip the queue. The Local weighs up the pros and cons of using Italy's public and private healthcare options.

Public vs private: What are your healthcare options in Italy?

Italy is well-known for having one of the best healthcare systems in Europe: skilled physicians, advanced technology, and quality facilities available free of charge to every citizen.

But is that actually the case? In reality, across the country, access to quality healthcare varies widely — and since the 1990s, Italy’s world-famous public system has gradually given ground to a growing number of private providers who offer top-notch services at a top-shelf cost.

That means, when you need health services the most, navigating Italy’s system can be a complicated and potentially costly affair.

Here’s what you need to know about Italy’s public and private systems before a health crisis hits.

Your rights to care

The right to public healthcare is enshrined in Italy’s constitution, which recognizes “health as a fundamental right of the individual and the interest of the community.”

Since 1978, when Italy’s national health service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or SSN) was first established, it has provided free, public health services based on the principles of universality, equality, and fairness.

In practice, this all means that all Italian citizens and most legal Italian residents have a right to access public healthcare free of charge, most of the time.

If you are resident in Italy for reasons of work, family reunification, asylum, or medical care, it is mandatory that you are registered with the public health insurance system. This means applying for your tessera sanitaria or health card after your residency paperwork is complete.

See our guide to who can register for national healthcare, plus more information about applying for (and renewing) your tessera sanitaria here.

If you are resident in Italy for other reasons — for example, to study at a university — you can still opt to enroll, for an annual fee.

Italy also recognizes health insurance provided by any EU country without a tessera sanitaria — you can show your European health card (EHIC). You are required to swap it for an Italian card if you’re in the country for more than six months.

Italy has also made international agreements with a handful of countries to recognize their state insurance as well — these include Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Monaco, and Tunisia. Talk to your local Italian embassy if you’re from one of these countries to get the documentation you need.

The public system

But, in reality, what does your tessera sanitaria get you?

First and foremost, it covers all emergency care. If you need an ambulance ride or a stop by the pronto soccorso (emergency room), this will be provided free of charge.

You will also be assigned a general practice doctor from a list in your region, who will be your first point of contact for any non-emergency care. Many of these doctors are also specialists in a particular field of health, though not all will be comfortable working in English.

READ ALSO: How to make a doctor’s appointment in Italy

In practice, though, these physicians are often massively oversubscribed, counting thousands of patients under their care. Wait times for an appointment can often be lengthy, if you can even get through to their booking line. If you don’t like your doctor, you can only change them once per year, by applying again to your local health authority.

Man entering a hospital in Italy

Italy’s healthcare system is said to be among the best in the world, but stark regional imbalances persist. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

If you require any non-emergency care — blood tests, a specialist exam, or certain prescriptions — you will need to receive a referral from this doctor. This takes the form of a paper ricevuta, a card specifying the services you need with a barcode that will be scanned by the specialist in question.

You won’t have a choice in what specialist you are referred to, and you will likely face a lengthy wait for these services, which are often performed at the local hospital.

Not all of these services will be completely free. Even with a health card, you will be required to make copayments for some specialist visits and exams.


For example, if your doctor orders full blood work — a procedure that involves more than a dozen different laboratory tests — you may pay as much as €100 in copayments or more, as the public system will only cover up to eight tests at any one time.

You will also need to make nominal copayments on certain prescription drugs. In theory, these fees are subject to certain maximums and should be geared to your household income. Dental care is free for children under 16, but only emergencies are covered for everyone else.

It’s important to know that, because Italy’s health system is managed by regional authorities, access to care varies greatly across the country. A 2015 report by the OECD found “profound regional differences” indicating many in the south of the country were not receiving timely access to preventative medicine.

Today, while many cities in northern Italy are known for their world-beating medical facilities, they are also often plagued by long wait times, partly because southern residents frequently travel north for care.

The private option

These concerns have given rise to an expanding market for private healthcare in Italy, which offers the chance to skip the line — at a cost.

Private providers can offer specialist services without a referral from your general practitioner, and often have much shorter wait times: a week or two, as opposed to several months.

Though they are discouraged from doing so, you may find your general practitioner advising you to seek out private care to avoid a long wait. This is particularly true for services like ultrasounds, for which there is a long delay.

See our complete guide to healthcare options during pregnancy in Italy.

It’s worth noting that these private practices do not necessarily offer better facilities than their public competitors. Some operate out of the same hospital facilities as their public counterparts.

The Policlinico A. Gemelli Hospital in Rome. Italy’s capital is home to several highly-rated hospitals and clinics, but some residents still travel north in search of better or faster treatment. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Their services can also be very costly. A single appointment can cost anywhere from €60 to €150 or more, and any follow-up exams or prescriptions will not be covered by the public system.

Though most Italians still pay these costs out-of-pocket, there are a number of private health insurance plans that can help spare you the financial headache.

At their most basic, these policies, known as polizze salute, cover emergency care and little else. Policies like these are sometimes a requirement for residency applications, and usually cost just a few hundred euro per year.

If you’re looking to supplement public health care with access to private specialists, however, expect to pay €100 per month or more. For this, you can expect perks like private rooms during hospital stays or cover for home care after discharge.

READ ALSO: ‘How I ended up in hospital in Italy – without health insurance’

To apply, you’ll need to undergo a medical checkup and declare any previous conditions. These policies are usually subject to age limits and some common chronic conditions, like diabetes, may be uninsurable.

Unlike American policies, insurers usually require that you pay up front, and will reimburse you only when you provide the proper paperwork. In some regions, where accredited private hospitals provide private care, your company may have a relationship that allows for direct billing.

Ultimately, the decision to go with private care comes down to a cost-benefit analysis: how long are you willing to wait — and how much would you pay to skip the queue?

If you would like to share your own experiences of using Italy’s public or private healthcare services, please leave a comment below or get in touch by email.