France Weighs Using Digital Tracking in the Fight Against Coronavirus


PARIS — As France sought clues final month on tame the coronavirus, consultants checked out one instrument that has been central to the technique of some Asian nations: digital monitoring. Citing threats to “individual liberties,” the highly effective inside minister dismissed it as alien to “French culture.”

But three weeks — and a tenfold spike in deaths — later, French tradition could possibly be altering, together with these of different Western democracies as they battle to regulate the stability between private privateness and the public good whereas trying to reopen their societies and economies with out setting off one other wave of coronavirus infections.

In Italy, politicians have proposed blood exams to detect antibodies to the virus earlier than licensing individuals to go away their lockdowns. President Trump could push for hiring lots of of individuals to carry out contact tracing as a part of his effort to permit Americans to return to work and faculty.

And in France, as President Emmanuel Macron prolonged a nationwide lockdown by at the very least one other month this week, he mentioned his authorities was contemplating utilizing a smartphone monitoring app that will inform individuals if they’ve come in contact with an contaminated particular person.

Such steps are notably fraught in Europe, the continent with the world’s hardest on-line privateness guidelines.

The combat towards fascism and communism in the 20th century left societies cautious of the intrusions of authoritarian energy. That is true from Eastern Europe, via Germany and Italy. France, the place the nation’s values sprung from revolution towards monarchy, is especially connected to notions of particular person rights.

“It has to do with French history and a sensitivity to freedom that is inherent to French culture,” Cédric O, who is spearheading the development of the app as France’s junior minister in charge of digital affairs, said in an interview.

Even so, recent experience in Asia shows that comprehensive tracing of infection chains, along with aggressive testing, has proved critical to fighting the pandemic, which is calling into question a host of Western assumptions, whether the use of digital tracking or the wearing of face masks.

With nearly 18,000 official deaths, France’s toll is surpassed only by that of Italy and Spain, which have also prolonged restrictions on their populations, and the United States. But the authorities are cautiously optimistic that the worst is over.

Those who argue in favor of allowing its intrusiveness say that it is fair to infringe on people who are infected rather than inhibit the freedom of society as a whole.

“We know the patient’s contacts, where the patient goes and stays, and so we don’t need to lock down everybody,” said Ki Mo-ran, an epidemiologist who is advising the South Korean government’s coronavirus response.

Without digital tracking, governments cannot know precisely “which place is contaminated, which place is clean, so they need to lock down,” Ms. Ki said. “Everybody’s freedom is affected. We have to ask ourselves if one person’s privacy is more important than the lives of a family or other people.”

Thanks to multipronged digital tracking — of cellphones, credit card usage and security camera footage — the South Korean authorities are able to closely monitor the movements of infected people. Health officials can then carry out tests on people who are potentially infected. People ordered into self-quarantine are monitored through an app.

Faced with a major outbreak, South Korea, with 52 million people, has managed to limit its official deaths to 230.

The South Korean government can make use of such intrusive tracking — though only during epidemics — because lawmakers changed privacy laws after an outbreak of MERS killed nearly 40 people in 2015.

Back then, health officials practicing traditional contact-tracing found that infected people, including “super spreaders,” often failed to reveal all of the people with whom they had been in touch, or patients were too sick to be interviewed, Ms. Ki said.

Weakening privacy laws was a consequential step for South Korea, where people in their 50s and older remember snatching democracy from the country’s military rulers in 1987.

If users tested positive for the coronavirus and indicate their status on the app, their recent contacts would be automatically alerted, and it would be up to them to take the appropriate steps by getting tested, seeking treatment or self-quarantining.



Source link Nytimes.com

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