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Experiences from the use of CovTracer: A contact tracing tool deployed in Cyprus at the fight against COVID-19


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How can an app help the fight against COVID-19?
Combating the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic requires the rapid identification of people who have come into recent contact with confirmed cases of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. This allows for timely interventions such as evacuation and disinfection of spaces and for assistance in locating people who have been close to a carrier or have been exposed to the virus, so that they too can be appropriately tested or treated.
CovTracer is a mobile app for location tracking. It has been used at a country-scale experiment in Cyprus with more than 10,000 users. The app aims to contribute to the reduction of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in our country. The app was developed by a team of researchers and experts at RISE. Andreas Kamilaris is an MRG leader at RISE and the key topics of this presentations are:
- Need for ICT and mobile apps
- CovTracer features
- Aspects of privacy in contact tracing
- Initial results
- Future plans

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Experiences from the use of CovTracer: A contact tracing tool deployed in Cyprus at the fight against COVID-19

  1. 1. Presenter: Andreas Kamilaris Team Leader@RISE 14 May 2020 ONLINE WEBINAR How can an app help the fight against COVID-19?
  2. 2. Motivation • The use of a mobile app which tracks the development of the pandemics can help significantly in more informed decision- and policy-making, towards drastic and effective measures to contain its outspread.
  3. 3. CENTRAL PHILOSOPHY DIGITAL TOOLS TO HELP THE CITIZENS, THEIR FAMILIES, AND THE GOVERNMENT AGAINST THE CORONAVIRUS • Reduce the spread of the virus through the collaboration between government/authorities and citizens • We inform and empower citizens • We offer digital tools to help citizens contribute with valuable data, info and knowledge, helping themselves, their families and the society. • We trace the virus, not the citizens!
  4. 4. What is the CovTracer app? • Application for mobile devices • Records user movements via GPS (for now) • It informs the public from reputable governmental sources • Facilitates patient contact tracking • Respects user privacy • Allows you to manage requests to leave the home • Gives you advice based on symptoms you may have
  5. 5. Complete app based on the guidelines of WHO Extending the technology PrivateKit of ΜΙΤ, endorsed by WHO. «A goal is to reduce privacy implications by keep data local to the phone and only sharing minimal information with explicit information. This is to make the acceptable across many different cultures. The plan is to leverage the PrivateKit technology from MIT.»
  6. 6. Who are the people behind CovTracer? Professor Yiorgos Chrysanthou, Research Director, RISE Core Team • Dr Andreas Kamilaris, SuPerWorld Team Leader, RISE • Dr Alessandro Artusi, DeepCamera Team Leader, RISE • Dr Melinos Averkiou, VCG Team Leader, RISE • Dr Panagiotis Charalambous, V-EUPNEA Team Leader RISE • Mr Filippos Karailanidis, Backend Developer, XM • Mr Stefanos Christoforou, Lead Developer • Mr Petros Kyriakou, Research Associate, RISE • Assoc. Professor Vasos Vassiliou, SNS Team Leader, RISE • Dr Demetris Antoniades, DARE Team Leader, RISE Other Team Members • Mr Marios Loizou, Research Associate, VCG MRG, RISE • Mr Yiangos Georgiou, Research Associate, VCG MRG, RISE • Mr Andreas Andreou, Special Scientist, UCY • Mr Iacovos Kouppas, LL.M. , Senior Manager, Law, Prountzos & Prountzos LLC • Mr Costas Kokkinos, IT Officer, RISE • Mr Sofronis Themistocleous, Project Manager, UCY • Ms Maria Ioannou, Marketing Officer, RISE • Ms Anthoula Fotsiou Psoma, Innovation Manager, RISE • Ms Elizabeth Kassinis, Senior Communications Officer, RISE • Mr Panagiotis Theotis, Accounting Officer, RISE • Dr Marios Kyriakou, Project Manager, RISE • Dr Styliani Petroudi, Senior Project Manager, RISE • Ms Charis Theocharous, RISE Project Coordinator, European Affair Officer, Municipality of Nicosia • Ms Anna Magidou, Multimedia Specialist
  7. 7. Which devices does CovTracer support;
  8. 8. Which languages does CovTracer support? Ελληνικά ΙΧΝΗΛΑΤΗΣ CovTracer English Turkish CovTracer
  9. 9. How does the app record the movements of the user? Step 1 Step 2
  10. 10. How does the app record the movements of the user? Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Fully respecting user privacy The user exports his/her location data only if he/she wishes to do so!
  11. 11. How does this recording help tracing? 1. User shares geo-located data with the epidemiologist. 2. The epidemiologist checks where the user was during the last two weeks.
  12. 12. You may also import your location data from Google!
  13. 13. How are citizens informed? Option for urgent alerts and notifications to the citizens
  14. 14. How can citizens fill declaration forms? Step 1 Step 2
  15. 15. How does symptom checking/advice work? Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Final step: Advice …
  16. 16. How do we exploit the symptoms declared by people? Based on the users’ symptoms as declared via the app, the future hot spots of the pandemic are predicted for the coming days!
  17. 17. • Fully developed. • Tested based on thousands users and devices, more than 9K downloads (1-2% of the Cyprus population) • Endorsed by the Commissioner of Private Data Protection, Mrs Irene Loizidou Nikolaidou COVTRACER – A tested solution
  18. 18. COVTRACER – Stats for website Announcement by the Government
  19. 19. COVTRACER – Stats for website
  20. 20. COVTRACER – Downloads of the Android app Announcement by the Government Media publicity
  21. 21. COVTRACER – Downloads of the Android app
  22. 22. COVTRACER – Feedback from people • The 5G army! J • Concerns about privacy and security • Concerns about the map seen by others (e.g. wife) • Small technical issues • 95%+ of the Cypriot population were happy!
  23. 23. Why did we use GPS initially? • Well known, widespread and accurate technology • Available on almost all modern mobile phones • It consumes very little energy from phone’s battery, measurements every 5 minutes • There is no question of privacy of information. The user selects if and when he wants to share them with the epidemiologist • You don't need a critical mass of users to work
  24. 24. Why did we use GPS initially? • Provides knowledge of the geographical locations attended by the patient in the last few days, for early intervention and actions in order to avoid the further spread of the virus (evacuation, disinfection, quarantine) • Knowledge of geographical locations helps the patient remember exactly where he/she was and when in the last two weeks, in order to give accurate information to the epidemiologist. • It can oversee specific groups of citizens if they actually comply with the quarantine imposed on them during the lock-down period.
  25. 25. Yes, but what happens indoors? • No information on how people come in close touch/contact with each other. • Bluetooth comes into play as an important technology!
  26. 26. Bluetooth has important supporters! • European Data Protection Board • eHealth European Network • Austria, Germany, Switzerland (PEPP-PT) • World Health Organization • Singapore (TraceTogether)
  27. 27. Next technical steps Contact reporting via Bluetooth as an alternative method of tracing Examples: • Singapore TraceTogether • Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) • Co-Epi initiative
  28. 28. Most important Bluetooth-based initiatives TraceTogether PEPP-PT Co-Epi
  29. 29. Most important Bluetooth-based initiatives GAEN -Google Apple Exposure Notification protocols
  30. 30. Closing the loop: Privacy-preserving risk notifications How can we close the loop, giving notifications to users on risk of infection? Can we do it by fully respecting their privacy?
  31. 31. Closing the loop: Privacy-preserving risk notifications Use hashing of location data!
  32. 32. Closing the loop: Privacy-preserving risk notifications
  33. 33. Closing the loop: Privacy-preserving risk notifications
  34. 34. Closing the loop: Privacy-preserving risk notifications In both cases, GPS and Bluetooth, the user needs to use the app in order to be notified!!
  35. 35. Next strategic steps • Pilot in a touristic area claimed to be COVID-19-free zone • Pilot for testing the use of the GAEN protocol, in collaboration with MIT
  36. 36. Most important Bluetooth-based initiatives GPS + GAEN Use geo-located data to give context to Bluetooth tracing!
  37. 37. General findings/observations • Pandemics found us all unprepared • We are in gray waters in terms of how ICT could help • People are reluctant to share information, even for good causes. • Such projects require carefully-prepared educational campaigns, proper advertising and “marketing” • Testimonies of trusted people among the public help. • Generally, COVID-19 mobile apps have low adoption.
  38. 38. General findings/observations Pilot Adoption Percentage of a contact recorded Singapore 3M (60%) 36% Australia 5M (20%) 4% How many of those have the Bluetooth switched on? How much time/distance are enough to declare risk?
  39. 39. COVTRACER Part of an integrated national strategy for control of the pandemics via ICT. Multiple functions: • Location tracking • Contact tracing (Bluetooth is coming) • Recording symptoms & advice • Information & Education platform • Emergency communication platform - for use in emergencies • Privacy and security measures
  40. 40. Thank you! Andreas Kamilaris Team Leader@RISE Email: 14 May 2020 ONLINE WEBINAR