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Lauterbach wants to extend the warning app "for the last time" until May 2023


According to SPIEGEL information, the Corona app has so far cost the Ministry of Health 150 million euros. Nevertheless, it should continue for a few more months – but then the prestige project could end.

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Warning of an increased risk on the Corona-Warn-App: »Public procurement and budgetary requirements«

Photo: Kira Hofmann / dpa

The Federal Press Office congratulated itself on the second birthday of the Corona warning app just over a week ago: the app is not a panacea, but it is "an important helper in the pandemic," it said in an anniversary message.

It helps to identify infections early and break infection chains.

In hardly any other European country is the respective app used to fight the pandemic as actively by the population as in this country, it said.

According to SPIEGEL information, things were less euphoric behind the scenes at the time.

The Robert Koch Institute, which reports to Karl Lauterbach's (SPD) Federal Ministry of Health, is responsible for the app.

It is operated by a consortium of Deutsche Telekom and SAP, which also developed it.

The impression had recently spread there that politicians had lost interest in the warning app – despite the record infection levels at the beginning of the year, the health minister’s warnings about the summer wave and some gloomy scenarios for the fall.

Further future of the app uncertain

In fact, the long-term future of the warning app is currently uncertain.

So far, the contracts expire at the end of the year.

But now the ministry has decided to draw at least one option to extend the contract until May.

It is the goal of the Ministry of Health to "exhaust this period completely and for the last time by May 31, 2023," a ministry spokesman told SPIEGEL.

»That would mean that even in the third Corona fall and winter, the app would be ready for use beyond the turn of the year.«

However, it remains unclear how things will continue afterwards, because the original contracts for the warning app were concluded in 2020 for one year each, with a two-time extension option.

This means that the maximum term for the current contract ends at the end of May 2023. After that, new contracts and probably also a tender would be necessary.

The original order was awarded directly and in an expedited procedure with reference to the pandemic situation.

However, the extension to the end of May is not even a thing of the past.

According to the ministry spokesman, the project is still being checked for its “legal procurement and budgetary requirements”.

The operators have just been asked to submit a budget plan for the coming months.

"We are currently in talks about an extension," says a Telekom spokesman.

No further details can be said at the moment, it said.

Development and operation are more expensive than previously known

For the companies, the extension by almost half a year is at best the second best news.

They had been campaigning for a long time to use the app again and referred to its wide installation base, it was "far too good for the Museum of Communication" because of the wide acceptance among the population, according to operator circles months ago.

Among other things, the proposal circulated to expand the Corona warning app into a general federal warning app.

The idea of ​​a second life as a health app was also aired, in which, for example, the electronic patient file (ePA) could be integrated and e-prescriptions could be redeemed in pharmacies.

The ministry has now clearly rejected such plans for the future.

Only minor improvements to the existing functions of the WarnApp are planned: »Other than that, there are no further developments.

A link to ePA or eRezept is not planned.«

The price of the app could also play a role, because it is also the best in an international comparison: The Ministry of Health estimates the total costs for the development and operation of the Corona warning app at around 150 million euros so far.

One cost driver of the project was the backward digitization in the German healthcare system: because the entire process chain could not be organized digitally, as originally planned, Telekom had to continue to operate a technical call center for verification.

A basic problem were passive users

The German Corona-Warn-App met with a mixed response from the outset in science, healthcare and the public.

Early hopes that this would make it possible to effectively combat the digital pandemic were not fulfilled.

There were sometimes devastating slatings from health authorities, users and politicians.

The IT community, on the other hand, praises the open-source approach of the app, and digital politicians like to refer to the app as a model for developing open-source public IT projects in the future.

The Federal Data Protection Commissioner Ulrich Kelber is also a fan and advocate.

The current Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbauch, supported them critically and constructively from the start and made concrete suggestions for improving them.

When the app displayed a flood of red warnings with "increased risk" for many at the beginning of the first omicron wave and doubts arose again about how it worked, Lauterbach said: "Especially when there are so many warnings that then lead to tests, that's it a very important building block for slowing down the galloping pandemic.«

In its report on the app's two-year anniversary, the Federal Press Office also presented figures on its effectiveness.

According to this, experts from the Robert Koch Institute determined at the beginning of the year that around one in five people who received a red warning actually tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and thus had the opportunity to anonymously warn their own contacts via the app .

Around three million users had done so at the time and shared their positive test result.

The fact that this was only done voluntarily and not automatically remains a fundamental problem of the app - because by far not all of those who tested positive could or would like to warn their fellow citizens.

Operators demand continued use of the app

Whether the application will actually be deactivated from June next year and uninstalled again from millions of smartphones remains to be seen - and will probably also depend on the further course of the pandemic.

According to SPIEGEL information, the operators are pushing for a top-level meeting at board level with Health Minister Lauterbach after the summer break.

At the same time, they are already working with other ministries to explore the opportunities for other uses beyond the health sector - for example as a citizen app.

Numerous users came into contact with digital services for the first time through the application.

"It would be downright negligent not to continue using this existing potential," says an internal paper by the consortium that is available to SPIEGEL.

It also proposes the idea of ​​further development into a "citizen's app", which could contain a digital citizen identity (e-ID) and a personal wallet (e-wallet).


Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-06-24

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