COMING SOON IN SWITZERLAND—A CONTACT TRACING APP TO COMBAT COVID-19

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Smartphone users in Switzerland may soon be able to download an app to alert them if they are exposed to people infected with coronavirus, a development that may hasten the country’s return to normality.

The Federal Office of Public Health is planning to roll out the contact tracing system by May 11, spokeswoman Sabina Helfer said in an email. “We are in the process of clarifying the feasibility and are carrying out various tests.”

Many Asian governments have managed to limit their death tolls and avoid nationwide lockdowns with help from digital tracking. Contact-tracing apps try to log instances where a person is close to another smartphone owner. If a user later believes to have become infected and records the fact, others will receive an alert.

Such an app is a key part of Switzerland’s lockdown exit strategy but development has been dogged by privacy concerns. Another worry is whether enough people will install the app on their smartphones.

Experts say that about 60 percent of the population would have to use the app for it to make a contribution to containing the virus.

In a survey commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation this month, two out of three respondents said they would be willing to use a smartphone app to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

Switzerland recently backed out of a European digital tracking plan—PEPP-PT—over fears that it may violate the country’s tough data protection laws. While the government has said the app would be voluntary and anonymous, the main issue is how to store the data.

Instead the government is working on an approach that avoids centralized stores of data, which scientists say could be used for invasive, even nefarious, purposes.

Swiss authorities on data projection, cyber security, and ethics all agree that the decentralized DP-3T protocol is safest, Helfer said. It will work with an opt-in that Apple and Google are jointly developing and which relies on wireless Bluetooth signals to detect contacts.

Pioneered in Switzerland, the DP-3T protocol was endorsed this week by 300 scientists from more than 25 countries.

„We are concerned that some ’solutions‘ to the crisis may, via mission creep, result in systems which would allow unprecedented surveillance of society at large,” they said in an open letter published Monday.

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