France’s COVID-19 tracing app expected to enter testing in week of May 11

PARIS (Reuters) – France's state-backed "StopCOVID" contact-tracking application is expected to enter its testing phase in the week of May 11, when the country begins to lift its blockade, a government minister said. on Sunday.

A woman passes by a closed bar that reads "take care, see you soon" during the blockade imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cambrai, France, on May 3, 2020. REUTERS / Pascal Rossignol

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Digital Affairs Minister Cedric O, a member of President Emmanuel Macron's inner circle, presented the app as a key element of France's strategy to prevent the coronavirus as authorities deal with the prospect of mass testing.

"There is nothing magical about this app, but it is not a technological cocktail either," wrote O on the Medium online publishing platform. "It is only useful if it is integrated into a global health system".

Countries are rushing to develop applications to assess the risk of one person infecting another, helping to isolate those who can spread the disease.

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Like other European countries, France chose short-range handshakes among devices as the best approach, discarding the alternative of using location data sought by some Asian countries as intrusive.

But there was a debate about registering these contacts on individual devices or on a central server – which would be more directly useful to existing contact tracking teams that work with phones and knock on doors to warn those who may be at risk.

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So far, France has opted for a "centralized" approach, which Apple would need in particular to change the settings on its iPhones. The smartphone maker refused to budge, although discussions with the U.S. company are ongoing, said O.

"French health and technological sovereignty … is the freedom of our country to choose and not be restricted by the choices of a large company, however innovative and efficient it may be," wrote O.

France's most important European partner, Germany, changed course last week about the type of smartphone technology it wanted to use, supporting an approach supported by Google and Apple, along with an increasing number of other European countries.

(This story has been rewritten to correct the headline and the first paragraph to make it clear that testing will begin in the week beginning May 11)

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Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry

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