How will Germany’s coronavirus tracing app work?

After a longer than expected delay, Germany’s coronavirus tracing app is set to be released in the coming week. Here’s what you need to know.

How will Germany’s coronavirus tracing app work?
The app on a mobile phone. Photo: DPA

Despite being originally planned for mid-April, it has taken until mid-June for Germany to release its coronavirus tracking app. 

Tracking is seen as a major way of controlling the spread of the virus and preventing another outbreak by tracing and controlling infection chains. 

What is contact tracing?

The process involves identifying contaminated people, so that measures can be taken to prevent the spread of infection on to others.

It is all the more important in cases when the sick person has no symptoms and may not even know they are sick.

Once the infected person is identified, efforts are made to locate and test the people they have been in contact with within the past two weeks. If one of those contacts is found to be infected, the investigation starts again.

READ: Germany gets ready to launch coronavirus tracing app

Why the wait? 

The app is set to be presented more than two months after it was originally to be unveiled. 

The major reason for the delay in presenting the app has been a debate surrounding privacy concerns – and the way in which the underlying data should be stored. 

While the initial plan was to store the data centrally, privacy concerns have led to the creation of a decentralised storage platform where the relevant information is stored on the handset rather than in a central database. 

The sophistication of the app itself has also been a major reason for its delay, with designers wanting to make sure the app was functional and effective before it was released to the public. 

More than 65,000 software experts voluntarily critiqued the app. 

How the app indicates the risk level. Image: Corona-Warn-App

How does the app work? 

When installed on a mobile phone, the app works through bluetooth. In order to be effective, the phone needs to have bluetooth turned on at all times. 

Once turned on, the app determines the distance between two phones due to signal strength.

Users will need to be within one and a half metres of each other for a period of time longer than 15 minutes. This distance and time period is used because experts believe it is the minimum required to transmit the virus. 

If two phones are within proximity of each other for more than the minimum time, the devices will exchange automatically developed IDs. 

If a person tests positive for the virus, everyone who came into contact with them will be notified. The app also gives the user a notification of their personal ‘risk level for infection’. 

Using this information, a person will then be able to try and procure a coronavirus test. If they test positive, they can scan the QR code on their positive test into the app. 

What does the app not do? 

The app does not control whether users are sticking to quarantine requirements, nor does it check whether contact bans are observed. 

The developers also promise that the app will not drain your battery any faster than normal use of your phone. 

Should I be concerned about privacy and data security? 

The app does not communicate information about your location, nor does it connect to your personal data. 

Bluetooth has been used rather than GPS as it does not enable communication of location (while it also is better for battery life). 

As reported by Tagesschau, “no data leaves the mobile phone”. 

While information is given to a central storage facility about the number of infections, this information is encrypted and anonymous – meaning that while it may be used to get an idea as to how the virus is spreading throughout the community, it does not provide any indication as to who may have contracted the virus or where. 

Hannes Federrath, President of the German Society for Computer Science (Gesellschaft für Informatik) said that while this approach was more privacy conscious, “it was actually less effective than a centralised system”.

Who developed the app? 

The warning app was developed by Deutsche Telekom and the German software company SAP. Apple and Google were also involved. 

Is the app voluntary? 

Yes, the app will not be made compulsory. 

What about school kids? 

As yet, schools where mobile phones are forbidden will not be making exceptions for the use of the app – although the Teachers Union on Friday called for a change in policy to ensure the virus was better tracked in schools. 

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.