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TECHNOLOGY

France’s coronavirus tracking app alerts just 14 people since launch

France's coronavirus tracking app has only alerted 14 people that they were at risk of infection since its launch three weeks ago, the digital affairs minister admitted on Tuesday, as he suggested cultural differences explained the success of a similar app in Germany.

France's coronavirus tracking app alerts just 14 people since launch
France's digital affairs minister Cedric O with the StopCovid app. Photo: AFP

The StopCovid app keeps track of users who have been in close proximity of one another over a two-week period. If any become infected, they inform the platform, which alerts the others.

French officials defended the app as a vital tool for slowing the spread of Covid-19, although critics expressed data privacy concerns.

Since its launch, 68 people informed the platform they had been infected and only 14 users were alerted that they were now at risk because of their contacts with these people, digital affairs minister Cedric O said at a press conference.

The French uses bluetooth technology. Photo: AFP

The minister nevertheless defended the usefulness of the app, arguing that the numbers reflected a decrease in the virus' prevalence.

But he admitted the number of downloads in France paled in comparison with Germany, where 10 million people downloaded the app versus almost 2 million in France.

And in France, 460,000 then uninstalled the app, leaving around 1.5 million users across the whole country.

The difference with Germany isn't to do with the app itself, said Cedric O.   

“It's probably more to do with our cultural differences and differing attitudes to the coronavirus,” he said.

“And potentially, it may be linked to a difference in perspective towards respective governments' behaviour during the pandemic,” he added.

The minister said he had no regrets over the choices made regarding the app, which he said would be very useful if there was a new spike in cases.

The app will cost between €80,000 and €120,000 a month for expenses related to hosting and development and maintenance work, a cost that would increase if there were to be a spike in cases, Cedric O said.

Testing apps, touted by some as the best solution to returning life to normal as the virus relents, have had tricky births across Europe.

Britain was due to start unrolling its own app in early June, but those plans were shelved after an initial testing phase revealed major problems.

In a major U-turn, the British government said on Thursday that it was ditching its current coronavirus-tracing app works and shifting to a model based on technology developed by Apple and Google.

France also has an extensive test and trace programme in addition to the app, which involves doctors and health insurance staff calling people who have been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive for the virus.

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COVID-19

New Covid wave in autumn ‘virtually certain’ say French experts

The head of the government's new health advisory body says that a surge of Covid cases when the French head back to work after the summer break is virtually certain.

New Covid wave in autumn 'virtually certain' say French experts

Immunologist Brigitte Autran, president of new government health advisory body the Comité de veille et d’anticipation des risques sanitaires (Committee to monitor and anticipate health risks) which has replaced the Conseil scientifique, told Le Parisien that “the Covid epidemic is not behind us” and said that the French would have to get used to “living with” the virus.

The Covidtracker website currently shows that the virus is in decline across France, with the R-rate currently at 0.7 – any figure lower than one indicates that the number of infections is falling.

Autran, whose appointment as head of the new body was confirmed on Wednesday, said that the most likely scenario was for a “new epidemic peak in the autumn”, when people return to work after the summer holidays.

“Will it be due to a new variant or the return of cold weather?” she said. “We are not soothsayers, but it is almost certain that there will be a wave.”

“Today, we must go towards living with it,” she added, reintroducing the French to an expression previously used by President Emmanuel Macron and several ministers.

“This does not mean accepting the deaths or the severity of the disease,” she went on, pointing to the fact that health authorities in France still have “levers to activate” to fight the virus. 

Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent (79.6 percent) of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated against the virus, she said that, “unfortunately there are still too many people who have not been vaccinated or revaccinated.”

And she said the new body would work with the government to improve the public’s access to drugs, such as Paxlovid, and vaccines.

Vaccination is still open to anyone who has not yet had their shots, while a second booster shot is on offer to certain groups including over 60s, pregnant women, those with health conditions or people who are in close contact with vulnerable people.

EXPLAINED Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster shot in France?

The French government in August voted to end to State of Emergency that allowed it to impose measures like travel bans and lockdowns, although further restrictions could be put in place if cases rise again and parliament agrees. 

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