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Coronavirus

Japan to roll out contact detection app for coronavirus

Government-backed application to be released as early as this month

A woman wearing a mask checks her smartphone in Tokyo (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government has developed a smartphone app that enables users to check if they have possibly encountered someone infected with the novel coronavirus and plans to release it to the public as early as the end of April.

The app will be released for free on Apple and Google's operating systems iOS and Android, respectively. It detects other smartphones in close proximity for a certain period of time using Bluetooth and saves their encrypted phone number data.

When an app user is tested and identified as infected with the novel coronavirus, the app sends notifications to people who have been nearby. The app's data will be deleted after a certain period of time and agreement is required from all users to protect their privacy.

Users are expected to receive messages such as, "It is possible you came in close contact with an infected person within the past week."

But names of infected people and the exact time of any encounter are not expected to be disclosed. When a person receives a notification, he or she will be urged to monitor their health, such as for a fever.

The app was developed with nonprofit organization Code For Japan. E-commerce giant Rakuten is also developing a similar app. The government is planning to work on a system for interoperability of various apps.

China rolled out a close contact detection app by February, according to local media, while Singapore is also encouraging its citizens to sign up to a similar app called TraceTogether.

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