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

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

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

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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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