France’s COVID-19 tracing app expected to enter testing week on Monday

Golden Statues at the Trocadero square near the Eiffel tower wear protective masks during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Paris, France, May 2, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s state-supported “StopCOVID” contact-tracing app should enter its testing phase a week on Monday when the country starts to unwind its lockdown, a government minister said on Sunday.

Minister for Digital Affairs Cedric O, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s inner circle, presented the app as a key element of France’s strategy to stave off the coronavirus as authorities grapple with the prospect of mass testing.

“There’s nothing magical about this app, but it’s not technological coquetry either,” O wrote on online publishing platform Medium. “It’s only useful if it’s integrated into a global health system.”

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

Like others in Europe, France has chosen the short-range Bluetooth “handshakes” between devices as the best approach, dismissing the alternative of using location data pursued by some countries in Asia as intrusive.

But debate has raged about whether to log such contacts on individual devices or on a central server – which would be more directly useful to existing contact tracing teams that work phones and knock on doors to warn those who may be at risk.

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

“French health and technological sovereignty … is the freedom for our country to be able to have the choice and not be constrained by the choices of a large company, however innovative and efficient it may be,” O wrote.

France’s most important European partner, Germany, changed course last week over which type of smartphone technology it wanted to use, backing an approach supported by Google and Apple along with a growing number of other European countries. [nL5N2CE0H8]

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; editing by Nick Macfie

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