How Germany’s Covid apps can help stem the fourth wave

An advert for the Corona-Warn-App at a football ground
An advert for the Corona-Warn-App at a football ground in Osnabrück. Photo: dpa | Friso Gentsch
Germany has two major coronavirus apps that have been deployed to try and break chains of infections. Both are much maligned, but could they be more effective than their reputation suggests?

The Corona Warn app, which was developed by the Health Ministry last year, has been praised for its exemplary standards on data protection.

But by last October Bavarian premier Markus Söder declared the app a “toothless tiger” due to the fact that it wasn’t sending out enough warning signals. “It barely has any use,” Söder complained.

Also available in app stores is the Luca app, which users can use to check in at sports venues, restaurants, bars or other indoor venues. That data is then passed on to health authorities in an encrypted form.

That app, which was developed privately, has also received its fair share of criticism. Privacy experts have expressed concern about the fact that user data is stored in a centralized system.

Despite the concerns, however, both apps are starting to prove their use.

The Corona Warn app has been downloaded 36.3 million times and over 700,000 people have been warned of a close Covid contact through it. The Robert Koch Institute estimates that this has led to some 300,000 chains of infection being disrupted.

Last week alone, as case numbers skyrocketed across the country, the app sent out 70,000 ‘red’ warnings, signaling close and sustained contact with an infected person.

Luca has also been busy in recent weeks. In the past week alone local health authorities have been able to use it to send out 40,000 warnings. 

Could do better

On the Corona Warn app, users have to inform the app themselves if they have tested positive. The number of relevant warnings would be much higher if all users who tested positive actually put this information into the app. 

Initially, fewer than 40 percent of people triggered alerts via the app. More recently, that figure has improved to around 60 percent.

Use of the Corona Warn app received a boost after an update enabled its use as a digital record of vaccination. Luca can also be used to store one’s digital vaccination certificate.

But German states have been slow to pick up on a second update to the Corona Warn app – a check-in function that puts it in direct competition with the Luca app.

Currently, only the states of Saxony and Baden-Württemberg allow for businesses to use check-ins with the Corona Warn app – though that could soon be about to change.

The new disease control law, passed by the Bundestag on Thursday, states that “the tracking and interruption of chains of infection shall be carried out primarily by providing the QR code for the Corona Warn app.”

German states that have already invested time and energy in getting people to use Luca – Hamburg for instance – are likely to rely on parallel use of the Corona Warn app and Luca in the future. Other states such as Brandenburg are deliberating whether to stop using Luca altogether.

SEE ALSO: What to do if you get a red alert on Germany’s Covid warning app


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