Japan aims to launch coronavirus contact tracking app next week

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan aims to launch a smartphone app based on technology from Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google next week to help curb the spread of coronavirus by tracking close contact with those infected, the health ministry said on Friday.

Smartphones with the app installed can detect each other via Bluetooth short-range wireless and log those who have come in close contact.

If a phone user is found to be infected, people who spent more than 15 minutes within a radius of one meter (3.3 feet) of that individual sometime over the previous 14 days will be notified that they were in close contact with a coronavirus-infected person, and be prompted to seek medical consultation.

Such a message will be sent only if the infected individual gives consent, and the person with a positive diagnosis will remain anonymous to the receivers of the notification.

“By knowing the possibility of having come into contact with someone tested positive for the new coronavirus, (app) users can get early support from a public health center such as an access to a diagnostic test,” a health ministry statement said.

“We expect an increase in the number of users will help prevent the spread of infection.”

Dozens of countries have launched or plan contact tracing apps to notify people quickly of possible coronavirus exposure as they look to reopen their economies, although such methods have fueled privacy concerns.

To give smartphone users privacy protection, the app Japan will be launching does not collect names, phone numbers, user location and other personal information, the ministry said.

Japan has not suffered the explosive surge of coronavirus infections seen in some other countries. It has reported about 17,300 confirmed cases and 922 known deaths to date.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Editing by William Maclean

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