Germany’s new tracing app is ‘big step’ in fight against coronavirus

The German government unveiled the new coronavirus tracing app on Tuesday, calling it a "big step" in the pandemic fight.

Germany's new tracing app is 'big step' in fight against coronavirus
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Authorities are hopeful that people will download and use the free app – the first of its kind in the country aimed at stamping out coronavirus infection chains.

“Downloading and using it is a small step for each of us, but a big step in the fight against the pandemic,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun, at the launch of the new app in Berlin.

He said it was not the first coronavirus app to launch in the world, but it was the best. He added that citizens could rely on high standards of data protection and security.

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said the app was an “important additional tool” to deal with the coronavirus crisis. He said the aim now was to prevent a possible second wave of the pandemic.

“Especially in a phase when there is much more contact again,” he said. “When the holiday season is beginning it is important to trace infection chains much more easily and quickly.”

This is also important as there are an increasing number of demonstrations as well as journeys by bus and train, where more “anonymous proximity” to other people is happening, he said.

READ ALSO: 11 things to know about Germany's newly launched coronavirus tracing app

'Rock star made in Germany'

The app, which works through bluetooth, is designed to make it easier to track infections.

If a user has tested positive and has shared this in the app, it reports to other users that they have spent time near an infected person. Then that person can be tested – even without symptoms, and at the expense of health insurance companies.

Lothar Wieler, Jens Spahn and Helge Braun at the launch on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The test centres are involved in the process. Using the app could save up to four days of time compared to the analogue methods for tracing infection chains, although this will also continue alongside the app.

READ ALSO: How will Germany's coronavirus tracing app work?

“We can also identify additional encounters that have so far fallen through the grid,” said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Contact details are not stored centrally – only on smartphones. The app was developed by Deutsche Telekom and the software company SAP at a cost of €20 million.

When presenting the app, Wieler mentioned four factors that are used to calculate when a user receives a warning. These include the duration and proximity of encounters, the time since the encounter, the bluetooth signal and the transmission risk.

Timotheus Höttgens, Telekom boss, called the creation a “rock star made in Germany”, which goes “far beyond the capabilities of an app”.

During development, everyday situations such as train rides, school lessons and cocktail parties were all simulated.

According to the German government, the prediction accuracy is around 80 percent. In the coming weeks, the technology is to be developed further, and it will soon be connected to all health authorities.

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Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

It’s back again: amid sinking temperatures, the incidence of Covid-19 has been slowly rising in Germany. But is this enough to merit worrying about the virus?

Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

More people donning face masks in supermarkets, friends cancelling plans last minute due to getting sick with Covid-19. We might have seen some of those familiar reminders recently that the coronavirus is still around, but could there really be a resurgence of the virus like we experienced during the pandemic years?

According to virologists, the answer seems to be ‘maybe’: since July, the number of people newly infected with Covid-19 has been slowly rising from a very low level.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), nine people per 100,000 inhabitants became newly infected in Germany last week. A year ago, there were only around 270 reported cases.

Various Corona variants are currently on the loose in the country. According to the RKI,  the EG.5 (also called Eris) and XBB.1.16 lines were each detected in the week ending September 3rd with a share of just under 23 percent. 

The highly mutated variant BA.2.86 (Pirola), which is currently under observation by the World Health Organisation (WHO), also arrived in the country this week, according to RKI. 

High number of unreported case

The RKI epidemiologists also warned about a high number of unreported cases since hardly any testing is done. They pointed out that almost half of all registered sewage treatment plants report an increasing viral load in wastewater tests.

The number of hospital admissions has also increased slightly, but are still a far cry from the occupation rate amid the pandemic. Last week it was two per 100,000 inhabitants. In the intensive care units, only 1.2 percent of all beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Still, a good three-quarters (76.4 percent) of people in Germany have been vaccinated at least twice and thus have basic immunity, reported RKI. 

Since Monday, doctors’ offices have been vaccinating with the adapted vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer, available to anyone over 12 years old, with a vaccine for small children set to be released the following week and one for those between 5 and 11 to come out October 2nd.

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has so far only recommended that people over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who should get a Covid jab this autumn in Germany?

“The pandemic is over, the virus remains,” he said. “We cannot predict the course of coming waves of corona, but it is clear that older people and people with pre-existing conditions remain at higher risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19”

The RKI also recommended that people with a cold voluntarily wear a mask. Anyone exhibiting cough, cold, sore throat or other symptoms of a respiratory illness should voluntarily stay at home for three to five days and take regular corona self-tests. 

However, further measures such as contact restrictions are not necessary, he said.

One of many diseases

As of this autumn, Covid-19 could be one of many respiratory diseases. As with influenza, there are no longer absolute infection figures for coronavirus.

Saarbrücken pharmacist Thorsten Lehr told German broadcaster ZDF that self-protection through vaccinations, wearing a mask and getting tested when symptoms appear are prerequisites for surviving the Covid autumn well. 

Only a new, more aggressive mutation could completely turn the game around, he added.

On April 7th of this year, Germany removed the last of its over two-year long coronavirus restrictions, including mask-wearing in some public places.

READ ALSO: German doctors recommend Covid-19 self-tests amid new variant