Digital contact tracing

AuthorDumbrava, Costica
EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service
of a test can be very challenging as the biological materials necessary for this assessment are not
always available'.
An ECDC report from April indicated that there were 10 CE-marked rapid SARS-CoV-2 antigen
detection tests, although these tests may not necessarily be available on the EU market. According
to the Commission, as of early April, there were 78 RT-PCR tests, 13 rapid antigen tests and 101
antibody tests available in the EU, most of them CE-marked.
In its resolution of 17 April 2020, the European Parliament called on the Commission 'to launch an
effective exit strategy that includes large-scale testing, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for
the largest possible number of citizens', encouraging the Member States to 'develop more
systematic testing on infection and exposure to the virus and to share best practices'.
6. Digital contact tracing
In order to reduce the spread of Covid-19, and given that the virus can be transmitted by infected
people who do not show any symptoms (during the incubation period, or by asymptomatic patients
who do not show symptoms), it is essential to identify all people who have been in contact with
those who have tested positive quickly (contact tracing).93
Data and digital technologies enrolled to fight the pandemic may serve a number of tracking
purposes, such as:
tracking the disease (e.g. mapping the spread of the virus);
tracking populations (e.g. mapping population movements, for example to assess adherence
to confinement measures;
tracking individuals (e.g. monitoring individuals' location and movement, for example to
enforce isolation orders or to identify contacts);
tracking contacts (e.g. recording encounters between mobile devices).
6.1. Location tracking
Location data can be used to monitor broad population movements, as well as to monitor an
individual's movements. A number of countries in Asia, such as China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong
Kong and Thailand, have used mobile phones or other digital devices to track individuals' locations
in order to monitor and reduce the spread of Covid-19.94 Hong Kong, for example, obliged all
overseas arrivals to wear a special wristband that uses geofencing technology to check if people
observe isolation orders. 95 Taiwan implemented a 'digital fence' system96 to ensure that people
travelling from high-risk countries would abide by quarantine rules. A number of location-based
apps have been made mandatory by governments, for example in China, India and Turkey.97
In Europe, there has been a wide consensus that anti-pandemic measures should rely on location
data only when this is anonymised and aggregated, which poses lesser risks to data protection and
93 ECDC, Contact tracing: public health management of persons, including healthcare workers, having had contact with
COVID-19 cases in the European Union second update, Technical report, 8 April 2020.
94 C. Dumbrava, Tracking mobile devices to fight coronavirus, EPRS, European Parliament, April 2020.
95 D. Lilkov, D., Covid-19 and Technology in the EU: Think Bigger than Apps, Wilfried Martens Centre for European
Studies, 7 May 2020.
96 M. Hui, 'How Taiwan is tracking 55,000 people under home quarantine in real time',
, 1 April 2020.
97 P. H. O'Neill, T. Ryan-Mosley and B. Johnson, 'A flood of coronavirus apps are tracking us. Now it’s time to keep track
of them',
MIT Technology Review
, 7 May 2020.

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