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Coronavirus

SKorea to Launch App that Notifies Users when They Come Close to People Infected with COVID-19

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean health authorities say they’re reviewing the possible use of new smartphone technology from Apple and Google that automatically notifies users when they come close to people infected with the coronavirus.

But officials also say it isn’t clear whether the Bluetooth-based apps would meaningfully boost the country’s technology-driven fight against COVID-19, where health workers have aggressively used cellphone data, credit card records and surveillance footage to trace and isolate potential virus carriers.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Wednesday that the U.S. tech giants in a message conveyed through South Korean cellphone carrier KT recommended that the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider using their technology.

Lee Kang-ho, another health ministry official, said officials were discussing whether the apps would be useful, but added “our methods in anti-virus efforts differ from methods and goals pursued over there.”

The software released by Apple and Google — a product of a rare partnership between the industry rivals — relies on wireless Bluetooth technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for COVID-19.

Following a 2015 outbreak of a different coronavirus, MERS, South Korea rewrote its infectious disease law to allow health authorities quick access over a broad range of personal information when fighting epidemics, which includes medical and credit card records and location information provided by police and cellphone carriers.

Health workers have been vigorously using these powers while carrying out an aggressive test-and-quarantine program.

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