Germany launches coronavirus app as EU sees travel revival

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany called on the public on Tuesday to download a new smartphone app to help break the chain of coronavirus infections, one of several apps that European governments hope to revitalize travel and tourism safely.

The Corona-Warn-App, now available for Apple and Android devices, uses the Bluetooth short-range radio to measure close contacts between people and issues a warning if one of them is later positive for COVID-19.

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"This app is not a complete solution. It is not a free pass. But it is an important additional tool to contain the pandemic," Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a launch event.

Germany joins Italy, Poland and Latvia in launching applications based on technology from Google, Apple and Alphabet, which preserves privacy by securely registering Bluetooth contacts on devices.

In news coinciding with the launch in Germany, members of the European Union agreed on technical standards for national applications to talk to each other. with each other – a step towards making it possible to track infections across borders.

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"As we approach the travel season, it is important to ensure that Europeans can use their own country's application wherever they are traveling in the EU," Commissioner Thierry Breton said in a statement.

SECOND TIME LUCK

The German app almost took off in April, when Berlin abandoned an initial approach that would store data on a central server – what privacy experts said could allow people to be spied on.

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The government called on Deutsche Telekom and SAP to save the project quickly. Initial downloads from the Google Play Store reached hundreds of thousands, said Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Hoettges.

Public enthusiasm for the app was mixed – the ZDF Politbarometer survey last week found that 42% of people would download and 46% would not, while 8% did not have a new enough smartphone.

"I'm doing my part," YouTuber Mori said in his Twitter feed, posting a screenshot of the app. Others complained that they needed to update the operating system on their iPhones before they could download the app.

Although proximity tracking technology is new and untested, the 20 million euro ($ 23 million) cost of developing the Corona-Warn-App pales in comparison to multi-billion euro fiscal stimulus measures and corporate bailouts .

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This makes it a relatively inexpensive bet to support the existing contact tracking and testing system that already contained the pandemic in Europe's largest economy. Germany recorded only 378 COVID-19 cases and nine deaths on Tuesday.

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"It is easier to keep infections low than to fight them at a high level," said Chancellery Minister Helge Braun. "The app makes sense from day one."

(The story corrects the name of the application in the 1st point and in the 2nd and 11th paragraphs).

Reporting by Douglas Busvine, edited by Ed Osmond and Mike Collett-White

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