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TECHNOLOGY

‘Stop Covid works’: Why it’s time to download France’s contact tracing phone app?

France's health minister has urged people in France to download the smartphone tracing app to help fight the growing second wave of coronavirus. Here's what you need to know about the 'Stop Covid' phone app'.

'Stop Covid works': Why it's time to download France's contact tracing phone app?
Photo: AFP

Since it began easing lockdown restrictions on May 11th, France has been operating a 'track and trace' system which it hopes will keep coronavirus under control as the country reopens.

A key part of this is the contact tracing phone app “Stop Covid”, although delays in creating and testing meant it was only available from June 2nd.

Since then it's fair to say the app has flopped. Very few downloaded it and as a result there were very connections made and contacts traced.

But that may have been due to the fact summer was largely life as normal in France with the virus only circulating at a low level.

However since then things have changed and the Covid-19 has made a resurgence in France.

And as the dreaded second wave arrives the country's health minister is now once again urging people to use the phone app.

“Stop Covid works. Stop Covid is an app that's free, that's anonymous, that's safe, and that must help us fight the spread of the virus,” said Olivier Veran.
 
“I ask you to download Stop Covid on your phone. If you don't want to leave it on all day, or all night, I ask you at least to.. use it when you're in a bar, or when you're at a party with your friends, when you go somewhere where you're not sure that you will be able to respect social distancing.”

How it works

France's Digital Affairs Minister Cedric O with the StopCovid app. Photo: AFP

Since May 11th, local health authorities have been operating contact testing, in which anyone who tests positive for the virus provides a list of people they have been in contact with, who are then tested in their turn.

 

However this system cannot be used for casual contacts, such as the person who sits next to you on the Metro or the waiter who serves you in a café.

And this is where the tracing app – StopCovid – comes in.

It's in the app store

The tracer is an app, so those who do not have a smartphone will not be able to access it. It doesn't download automatically so you need to go into the app store on your phone and find it. The android and iPhone versions are now available to download.

It uses bluetooth

So you will need to make sure the bluetooth on your phone is turned on at all times for it to work. Early testers say that does not seem to excessively affect the normal battery life of a phone.

It's voluntary

Like all countries that are using an app, France has been attempting to walk the line between protecting public health and guarding online and data privacy. To this end two compromises have been made, the first is that the app uses bluetooth technology rather than location mapping and the second is that it is voluntary.

People who choose not to use it face no penalties or fines, although the government is urging as many people as possible to use the app, as it becomes more efficient the more people that use it. The ideal level of use for efficient working is for 60 percent or more of the population to have it.

How does it work

Once you have downloaded the app and activated it, it keeps a list of people you have been in close contact with. If you test positive for Covid-19, you input this information into the app – and it is up to you to do this, a positive test does not automatically load onto the app.

Positive tests

If you have been tested positive for Covid-19, go to the me déclarer section of the app and scan in the QR code you were given along with your positive test result.

The app then alerts anyone who has been on your list of contacts over the last 14 days.

If you receive an alert from the app telling you that you have been in contact with an infected person, you then arrange a coronavirus test for yourself, either through your GP or local testing facility. You need to arrange tests in advance, as most places in France do not have walk-in testing.

What happens to my data?

As the app uses bluetooth, it only stores the phone's identifiers, rather than the full details of the contract holder. These details will be stored by the app for 14 days. After this, the app terms say, they will be automatically deleted.

It doesn't replace other precautions

Politicians were also keen to stress that using the app does not mean you should ignore other health precautions such as wearing a mask, respecting social distancing and frequently washing hands.

 

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HEALTH

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

Experts have warned of a particularly bad flu epidemic this winter in France due to a combination of lowered immune systems and 'vaccine apathy' - urging high-risk groups to get their shot as soon as the flu vaccination campaign begins in October.

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

France’s annual flu vaccine campaign will officially get under way on October 18th this year – and medical experts have warned that this year’s season may be a bad one amid fears of “vaccine apathy”.

When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters in France this autumn

Immunologist Alain Fischer, who chaired France’s Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale throughout the Covid-19 pandemic said that the high number of flu cases in Australia and the southern hemisphere in its winter were “a warning sign” that this winter’s flu, coupled with rising cases of Covid-19, could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations again in the winter.

“For two years, influenza has been kept at bay, thanks to the barrier measures we have put in place against Covid,” he told Le Parisien. 

“This year, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing … Faced with this relaxation, there is a serious risk of flu epidemic.”

Between two million and six million people contract flu every winter in France. The infection is responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 deaths every year, usually among people aged 65 and over. But in ‘bad’ flu years, that mortality figure can rise rapidly.

READ ALSO When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

The country, meanwhile, is at the start of what is being described as an “eighth wave” of Covid, and the Haute Autorité de santé recommends the eligible, vulnerable people ensure they are vaccinated against both viruses as early as possible. “A Covid-flu cohabitation is not a good thing,”  Fischer said. “It is synonymous with a very high number of hospitalisations. 

“Hence the objective of two strong vaccination campaigns – Covid and flu – especially for the most vulnerable.”

“The double injection is very good, and practical for patients. But I think that we should not wait, especially vulnerable people. It is a mistake to think that you will get your Covid booster when the flu vaccine is here – the Covid jab should not be delayed.”

Currently less than 40 percent of people eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine have received their latest dose.

Dual-strain Covid-19 vaccines designed to combat both delta and omicron variants will be available in France from October 3rd.

READ ALSO France approves new vaccines for Covid Omicron sub-variants

“It is quite possible to get your Covid injection in early October and flu vaccine in late October – you will need both anyway,” Fischer said.

The Haute Autorité de Santé recommends influenza vaccination for the following groups:

  • people aged 65 and over; 
  • people with chronic diseases; 
  • pregnant women;
  • people suffering from obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40 kg/m 2 );
  • Infants under 6 months at risk of serious influenza;
  • Families and others close to immunocompromised people; 
  • home help workers caring for vulnerable individuals.

For anyone in these groups, the flu vaccine is 100 percent covered by health insurance and delivered free of charge to the pharmacy, on presentation of a voucher.

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