French Covid-19 App Crashes After Relaunch

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French users of the relaunched TousAntiCovid contact tracing app report technical problems, amidst surging cases and government-imposed curfews

Users of France’s Covid-19 contact tracing app have experienced technical difficulties after the app relaunched with new features.

The country relaunched its TousAntiCovid app, formerly known as StopCovid, late last week following disappointing download figures.

The new version was downloaded more than 500,000 times after its relaunch, but the surge in users caused technical problems, the French government said.

French prime minister Jean Castex announced the app update on television 10 days before the relaunch.

Relaunch

After the relaunch TousAntiCovid topped the national Apple app store download chart for free apps.

But users in France posting on social media said they were unable to access the app, were stuck on its home page, or were unable to activate the app.

France’s digital minister Cedric O said on Friday morning the issues had been caused by too many people using the system at once, but that the problem had been fixed.

TousAntiCovid adds new visuals as well as informational features including live Covid-19 statistics,  news about anti-pandemic measures and integration with services.

Users can, for instance, use the app to access travel certificates needed in areas of the country affected by curfews.

Officials said they plan to add more features, such as a QR-scanning feature for restaurants and other venues, to aid in contact tracing.

So far about 3.3 million people have downloaded the app since its original launch in June, including downloads after the relaunch, according to broadcaster BFMTV.

Effectiveness

That lags other countries, with the contact tracing app for England and Wales, for instance, having been downloaded more than 18 million times and Germany’s app at 19 million downloads.

More than 13,000 people have used the French app to date to declare themselves Covid-19 positive, leading to only 823 notifications.

By contrast, on Thursday, the day of the app’s relaunch, France announced 41,622 new cases in 24 hours, which at the time was a record for the country since the pandemic began.

Contact tracing systems are intended to track down people who have been in contact with those who are positive, in order to isolate other positive cases and slow the virus’ spread.

Smartphone contact tracing apps are intended to complement human systems, but the effectiveness of both is being challenged at a time when cases are rising dramatically across Europe.

A surge in cases in Italy led some media outlets in the country to declare that the Italian Covid-19 contact tracing app, Immuni, was “dead”.  That app, which launched in June, has been downloaded about 9.2 million times.

Smartphone contact tracing apps have also been beset by privacy concerns, with most countries as a result favouring a “decentralised” model, where data is never shared with a centralised server.

By contrast, France chose a “centralised” model in which matching takes place on government servers.

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