As the overall social situation regarding the outbreak of Coronavirus has improved since the active cases have significantly decreased it is seen that the restrictions will gradually become looser thus other medicine services will become more accessible to the residents of Latvia. During the upcoming months more focus will be put on strengthening the weakest points of the healthcare system such as due to the overwork of doctors it is problematic to ensure high quality healthcare service, hospitals outside the largest cities of Latvia have low workloads and surgical efficiency (on average one operation per day), which affects the quality of service. Additional shortcoming as supervision of non-certified doctors and residents is formal and not practical and the fact the accounting of working time is not provided electronically, therefore it is difficult to review the employment efficiency of medical personnel. Additional shortcoming that has been detected is that some health institutions do not fulfill the provision of health care services paid from the State budget.
It should be emphasized that the further aim is not to close a hospital or reduce the availability of specialists. The aim is to improve the quality of health care (including home medical care, palliative care), efficient use of human resources and use of the state budget. As one of the key priorities the Ministry of Health has set is importance to ensure that the patient is transported to a specific hospital in return for the necessary high-quality services.
Latvia develops world-wide innovation to prevent the spread of Covid-19
In order to limit the spread of Covid-19 in Latvia, while ensuring the national economy and population of Latvia to gradually transition back to pre-Covid circumstances, the Latvian information and communication technology industry and science field representatives have voluntarily and in free of charge developed the mobile app “Stop Covid”, which has been available since the end of May. Several state institutions have also been involved in evaluating the application solution, including the President of Latvia and the Chancellery of the President, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control, NATO StratCom, as well as medical professionals and epidemiologists. The social project “Stop Covid” serves as an evidence that Latvia is not only an innovative country but has a great expertise in creating adaptive technological solutions with added value as many leading technology companies have been involved in the process of the implementation of the “Stop Covid” application.
Application “Stop Covid” – modern and innovative tool to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus
Because of the restrictive measures and public participation and awareness, Latvia according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is the country with the forth lowest cases of Covid-19 in the European Union.Despite the great results regarding the prevention of Coronavirus the Latvian authorities still value the Covid-19 crisis with high precaution and seek innovative precautionary measures with low impact on economy and the daily lives of people. With the high involvement of society and the use of modern technology, the development of new virus prevention tools has gone a step further. The newly developed application allows epidemiologists to identify contacts more quickly. It is to be seen one of the most efficient ways to prevent the chain of transmission of infection and the wider spread of infection in society.
Although Latvia is currently a country with one of the most moderate restrictions, yet measures taken still significantly affect people’s activities and economic processes. In order to ease the restrictions, it is necessary to introduce alternative precautionary measures. The Latvian success regarding prevention of the spread of Coronavirus is based on extensive testing and contact search. The contribution of the developed technological solution “Stop Covid” will make it easier to find contacts and speed up testing time. According to the head infectologists of Latvia this can serve as a contribution in order to improve controlling the infection and reduce the restrictions since as claimed by epidemiologists and scientists, even if only 20% of the Latvian population would use the application, it would already be an important support for risk identification and further control of the infection in the society. Within less than two weeks since the application had started to operate the total number of users reached 60 000, which is approximately 3% of the residents of Latvia. As reported by the representatives of the application “Stop Covid” the number of users is increasing daily and already proved its efficiency as reportedly a recent Covid-19 patient had used “Stop Covid” application.
Key priority – data protection
One of the key aspects that was taken into account during the development stage of the application “Stop Covid” was data protection. During the installation of the app, the user is given the choice of providing their contact information for communication or not. Additionally, the app does not identify a specific person, track a person’s location, or process information (contact information, messages, usage of other applications, photos, videos, etc.) on the user’s device and the information about possible contacts is stored only in the downloaded application, and is automatically deleted from the device memory after 14 days.Within its competence, the Data State Inspectorate provided support in the development process of the application “Stop Covid” monitoring that the individual’s right to privacy is respected, while enabling the responsible authorities to protect public health in general. Despite the efforts to ensure the anonymity and data protection and the conclusion of Data State Inspectorate that the application ensures safe data transfer, the application raised discussion in the society of Latvia regarding the possible data protection flaws within the application “Stop Covid”. The discussions around this topic reflected that disinformation is still a problem in Latvian society.
The basic principles of information transfer in the application “Stop Covid”
The application is based on a methodology developed by European scientists, including Latvia, as well as on the new Bluetooth signal exchange algorithm developed by Google and Apple, and its use is voluntary. The app anonymously uses Bluetooth technology to capture nearby smartphones (approximately 2 meters and longer than 15 minutes) on which the app also runs. The recorded information is stored on the user’s smartphone and is automatically deleted after 14 days.
Regardless of whether the app is used or not, the Disease Prevention and Control Centre of Latvia contacts the population with confirmed Covid-19 disease. Disease Prevention and Control Centre of Latvia receives this information not from the application, but from medical institutions. If the patient uses the app, the Disease Prevention and Control Centre of Latvia will send a code that can be entered into the application to activate the sending of an anonymous notification to fixed contacts who have been at risk of infection. The identity of the Covid-19 is not revealed to the recipient of the notification. To ensure the data protection the patient does not have access to the information that are the recipients of the notification.
The operation of the application is based on encrypted data, as well as the principle of voluntary use. Bluetooth fixed contacts are only stored on the user’s smartphone as encrypted codes and are not available to the user or application developers. They are deleted after a 14-day period. A user can optionally specify its contact phone number in the application. However, contact information of the users that have been in contact in Covid-19 patient will only be received by the Disease Prevention and Control Centre of Latvia if the user is notified of contact with Covid-19 and provided its contact details. By providing a contact telephone number, the Disease Prevention and Control Centre of Latvia will be able to contact the user, noting the need to isolate themselves or seek additional medical attention in case of symptoms. In case of detection of contact with Covid-19 and user’s approval for further actions the following data will be available for the Disease Prevention and Control Centre of Latvia: telephone, date of contact, signal strength, duration of contact.