Lux could create contact tracing app "within short time"

Health minister Paulette Lenert is pictured during a visit to Luxembourg's army field hospital on 20 April 2020 Matic Zorman/archives

Health minister Paulette Lenert is pictured during a visit to Luxembourg's army field hospital on 20 April 2020 Matic Zorman/archives

Speaking on radio 100,7 on Wednesday, health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) said that such an app could be created in Luxembourg “within a short time if we wanted to, if it was decided politically.”

Currently, contact tracing is carried out manually in Luxembourg, a method which Lenert said she found “more effective at this point.”

According to government figures published on Wednesday, there were 40 active infections in Luxembourg of a total 4,085 positive cases over the past three months.

Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) has previously said he was skeptical about adopting a contact tracing app in Luxembourg. In addition to data protection concerns, he said for it to be effective an app would need a 60% take-up rate. Furthermore, it would need to be compatible with apps used in neighbouring countries because 200,000 people working in Luxembourg live in the Greater Region.

This week, EU member states with support of the European Commission agreed on a set of technical specifications for contact tracing apps to ensure information can be exchanged between nations. “Once the technical solution is deployed, such national apps will work seamlessly when users travel to another EU country which also follows the decentralised approach. This means an important additional step towards interoperability of mobile apps for tracing coronavirus infections, as Member States begin to lift travel restrictions across borders in time for summer vacation,” the commission said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Why is this necessary?

The majority of national-approved contact tracing applications are based on a decentralised architecture, which means that the arbitrary identifiers of users that were detected for a certain duration in proximity remain on the phone itself, and will be checked by the phone against the identifiers of users reported to be infected. The technical specification for interoperability of apps will allow these checks to be done also for users travelling from other member states, without the need to download several national apps.

To ensure people are not individually identified, proximity information shared between apps will be exchanged in an encrypted, and no geolocation data will be used. To support further streamlining of the system, the commission will set up an interface to efficiently receive and pass on relevant information from national contact tracing apps and servers, reducing the amount of data exchanged and in turn data consumption.