Coronavirus contact tracing applications should be made mandatory as a means of helping the European Union transition out of the public health crisis and open up its borders, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Wednesday (8 July).
In May, a joint agreement between the European Commission and member states noted how coronavirus contact tracing applications in the EU must be ‘voluntary.’
However, normal life, Janša said, could only be reintroduced in Europe “if we create a new digital application for virus tracking, which is not totally voluntary.”
Janša, who was speaking on a virtual panel alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, added that such a mandatory application “is the only alternative” to opening up Europe’s touristic industries again and that there should be a single EU application.
“This is something where we need Europe to coordinate…to have one application for the whole continent, and after that if there is no medicine or vaccine…one application for the whole world.”
Janša warned that unless such a uniform approach were considered, there would be the risks of different countries adopting different solutions, “some being more effective and some less.”
Slovenia’s government has recently introduced a legislative package aimed at tackling the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which includes compulsory use of a contact tracing application for those who have tested positive for the virus or those in quarantine. The plan has met with opposition criticism of ‘slowly introducing dictatorship’.
Currently, Slovenia has just under 2,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 111 deaths.
Failure to use the app could result in a fine of up to €600. The plans will be voted on this Thursday and if approved, Slovenia will be the only EU country in which a coronavirus application is in some form mandatory.
On Monday (July 7), Tina Heferle of the opposition Marjan Šarec List party (LMŠ) told the Slovenian parliament that the government should not use the epidemic as “a reason for excessive encroachment upon human rights and freedoms,” according to The Slovenia Times.
“The government is trying to discipline and control the citizens with police methods, in the name of the new coronavirus,” Heferle added.
Meanwhile, the head of Slovenia’s data protection authority, Information Commissioner Mojca Prelesnik, has urged the national assembly not to support the mandatory conditions in the use of the app, which she believes is counter to the European Commission’s advice.
COVID apps in Europe
Elsewhere in Europe, Karine Moykens, secretary-general of Belgium’s Department of Welfare and Public Health, confirmed earlier this week that the country will launch its coronavirus contact tracing app in September, reports The Brussels Times.
In Ireland, meanwhile, within hours of being launched on Tuesday (7 July), the country’s coronavirus contact-tracing app was downloaded 500,000 times.
One of the self-professed success stories in Europe’s coronavirus contact-tracing app landscape so far has been the German model, which has been available since mid-June.
The software has been downloaded by approximately 15 million users so far, but there is nevertheless little data as yet on its efficacy. In a potential bid to boost tourism to Germany from the UK, the German embassy in London announced that their ‘Corona Warn-App’ would also be available to download from the UK.
2021 Slovenian Presidency
As part of Wednesday’s debate, the Slovenian leader also highlighted his country’s role in the so-called trio presidency of the Council of the European Union, which is currently chaired by Germany. Portugal will oversee the presidency in the first half of 2021, while Slovenia takes the reins in the second half.
Janša noted on Wednesday how Slovenia has already put forward two priorities as part of its role, which includes preparing for a new public health crisis in addition to building up the bloc’s cybersecurity capacities.
“We have proposed, and both [presidency] partners in the trio have accepted, two new priorities. One is to create a really comprehensive strategic plan of how to fight on the European level a possible new epidemic, and how to prepare ourselves against a massive cyber attack which could be a reality.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]