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Germany switches to Google and Apple on virus tracing app over privacy concerns

The German government has switched to backing a coronavirus-tracing app using technology supported by Google and Apple, ditching a German-led alternative that had come under fire over privacy concerns.

Germany switches to Google and Apple on virus tracing app over privacy concerns
Photo: DPA
German Health Minister Jens Spahn and Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun said the government was now in favour of a “decentralised software architecture” that would see user data stored on people's own phones instead of on a central database.
 
“Our goal is for the tracing app to be ready for use very soon and with strong acceptance from the public and civil society,” Spahn and Braun said in a joint statement.
 
The rollout of an app that would use bluetooth to alert smartphone users when they have been in contact with someone infected with the virus is considered crucial in the fight against the pandemic as countries like Germany relax their lockdowns.
 
 
The government had until thrown its weight behind a pan-European app known as PEPP-PT being developed by some 130 European scientists, including experts from Germany's Fraunhofer research institute and Robert Koch Institute public health body.
 
But the proposed app had faced growing criticism over its plan to store data on a central server.
 
 
Critics said it would allow governments to hoover up personal information and could lead to mass state surveillance.
 
In an open letter earlier this week, some 300 leading academics urged governments to dismiss the centralised approach, saying it risked undermining public trust.
 
 
They said an approach being developed by Apple and Google, whose operating systems run most of the world's smartphones, was more privacy friendly.
 
The tech giants plan to collaborate with apps, like the Swiss-led DP-3T, that use a decentralised system, which would see data stored on individual devices.
 
The European Commission has also recommended that data harvested through coronavirus contact-tracing apps should be stored only on users' own phones and be encrypted.
 
The German government has repeatedly stressed that the use of any coronavirus app would be voluntary and anonymous, in a country still haunted by the spying of the Nazi era and the former East German secret police.

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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