'Delete it': Belgium's Covid tracing Coronalert app no longer active

'Delete it': Belgium's Covid tracing Coronalert app no longer active
A smartphone with the Belgian Coronalert tracing app. Credit: Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

After just over two years, Belgium is deactivating its contact tracing Coronalert app for the time being. During the pandemic, the app was launched to alert people if they had been in contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19.

Launched in September 2020, the app was supposed to provide additional help to traditional contact screening staff during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, the app is being discontinued.

"Two weeks ago, it was decided to put the app into sleep mode," chair of the Interfederal Testing & Tracing Committee Karine Moykens said on Flemish radio. "So you may delete the app from your smartphone, it is no longer active."

The app was deactivated partly because Belgium's Covid-19 testing policy has changed to focus more on rapid antigen tests and self-testing. "Those results are no longer recorded anywhere. In that case, an app like this makes little sense," said Moykens.

Value remains unproven

The app was also very expensive. While developing an app is a one-off cost, it also costs money to keep the app active. "We did a cost-benefit analysis and started looking at how many people were still using the app. By the time the decision was made, the number of users had dropped to an average of 130 positive cases per week. Then you have to dare to make the decision to deactivate the app as well."

While the value of the app has been highly debated in Belgium, Moykens is convinced that it proved its usefulness. "At peak times, we had 1.5 million users. The advantage was being able to notify high-risk contacts faster. The app was very valuable during the pandemic."

However, an international collaboration of VRT, Le Monde, Die Zeit and The Investigative Desk revealed in May 2021 – eight months after the app's launch – that the usefulness of countries' Covid tracing apps (not just the Belgian one) cannot be proven.

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Moykens stated that 26 European countries had a similar app, and more than half of those have shut it down in the meantime. Belgian residents who open the app next week will get a pop-up stating that it will no longer be updated.

Still, all data collected so far will be saved, she added. "Suppose the Covid-19 pandemic returns or another pandemic comes up, the app can be immediately reactivated."


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