Without pharmaceutical intervention, the success of combating infection lies mainly in a rapid and resolute response from the healthcare authorities and implementing supervisory services with a focused testing strategy. The contribution of digital tracing can be one component of that, but decidedly not one that is separate from the overall system of measures and factors. Based upon a few practical figures from the past months and epidemiological models, the CoronaMelder and similar apps make at best a very limited contribution, with a percentage of between 4 and 8% in terms of extra infections traced.
Even though this percentage is low, it could indeed be a supplement to the traditional testing and tracing, because this method enables the tracing of persons who may potentially become infected (for example in public transport) without being someone the COVID-19-positive person knows. Traditional contact tracing, which assumes specific knowledge and skill, is in the foreground. The personal approach is crucial to ensure that measures are and can be complied with. Based on the presumption that the population takes responsibility for health (their own health and that of others), an app can also yield time gains (by omitting the intermediary, such as a GGD).
In conclusion, the use or uselessness of an app such as the CoronaMelder, whereby privacy is safeguarded so that there is no automatic insight from the traditional test and trace system, depends entirely on the behaviour of the population. As such, the contribution of the app depends on various culturally related aspects, which was confirmed in the studies over the past year.
Because technology is anything but neutral in use and deployment, it is essential to also anticipate the least optimistic flip-side. Here one could consider, for instance, the possibility that a technical solution specially developed for this purpose might be used for other purposes, or that individuals may see use of the app as a sort of licence for less strict compliance with behavioural recommendations, born from a false sense of security.
Assessing the contribution of measures in combating the virus is extremely complex, since effects can also change over time. There is currently no scientific validation in randomised research of an app’s contribution, and it is therefore questionable whether this might not also be too complex and costly. What the app without any scientific evidence has indeed brought about is a discussion about fundamental values in our society, about how we relate to technology and our fellow man. Awareness needs to be raised in relation to the fact that technology is not a ‘no strings attached’ instrument. This applies for the use of technology, but also for coordination ahead of any implementation. Constant steering based on our fundamental human values, based on a multidisciplinary approach, is crucial.