A newly released Israeli app will notify users if they’ve crossed paths with a person confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus currently raging across the world.
The app, Track Virus, sources data collected by the Israeli Health Ministry which conducts interviews with confirmed patients on their whereabouts and releases the information publicly to help stem the spread of the coronavirus in Israel. The country has 213 confirmed cases as of March 14, according to ministry data, and some 45,000 people are currently in quarantine either because they had traveled abroad or came into contact with someone diagnosed with the disease.
Israel has taken some of the farthest-reaching measures outside of China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, to help curb the rate of infection in the country. Since late January when the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency, Israel has curbed international travel, barring entry to non-citizens from a number of Asian and European countries, and ordering mandatory hospitalized or home quarantines of 14 days for anyone arriving from abroad. The country has also banned social gatherings of more than 10 people and ordered all kindergartens, schools and universities shut, as well as public venues such as malls, restaurants, gym, theaters, among others.
Each confirmed case in Israel is investigated and while the person’s name is not released, their whereabouts – including dates and times – prior to the diagnosis are publicized widely in official government announcements and in the media. This is done to alert others who may have come into contact with them and who are then tested or ordered into 14-day home quarantine.
The new app seeks to simplify this process and minimize the guesswork, as well as limit the anxiety over possible encounters. It works by crosschecking a user’s path with the paths of confirmed coronavirus patients as listed by the Health Ministry. Should a user have been at the same location frequented by a confirmed patient, they will receive a notification letting them know (this works from the moment a user downloads the app, and not retroactively).
The information, the developers stress, is anonymized and is not uploaded to the cloud, and the app does not prompt for any form of identification though users do grant geolocation permissions for their smartphones.
Released late last week, Track Virus is the brainchild of Ori Fadlon, a former social media manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv FC, who partnered with Israeli software development company PandaOS to roll out the app quickly
“We did three-four months’ worth of work – development, design, programming – in a matter of three-four days but the urgency was real and it all happened very quickly,” Fadlon tells NoCamels in a phone interview.
The app currently has over 75,000 downloads and that number is growing fast, he says. It is available in Hebrew and English for Android users and will soon be rolled out on iOS.
“We’re doing this to help people, to save them. It’s for the good of society,” Fadlon explains.
Track Virus partnered with Israel’s United Hatzalah, a volunteer-based emergency medical care organization, to help track information coming in from the Health Ministry.
“As the number of coronavirus patients rises the harder it becomes for the public to keep track of all the different places that they have all been and the updates from the Health Ministry. Additionally, people often have a hard time recalling exactly where they have been and when. The app solves both of these problems,” said United Hatzalah VP of Operations Dov Maisel in a statement.