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‘Only problem is that it’s optional’: The verdict on Germany’s coronavirus tracing app

More than 14.4 million people have downloaded the Corona-Warn-App in Germany so far. What's the verdict on it? This is what The Local readers had to say.

'Only problem is that it's optional': The verdict on Germany's coronavirus tracing app
Nearly 85 percent of Local readers who responded to our survey said they had downloaded the app. Photo: DPA

Germany's coronavirus 'Warn-App' (warning app) is already making waves across the world. After being downloaded millions of times, it was even mentioned in the UK House of Commons as an example of country doing things right.

But how easy is it to use and does it work?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's organisation for disease control and prevention, is behind the creation of the app, which it hopes will help the country in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.

Initial download figures are high compared to other European countries, like France.

And when we asked readers in Germany, nearly 85 percent said they had downloaded the app and were using it.

Of those who hadn't downloaded it, a few said they might do it in future while most said they couldn't actually do it because they had a different country store set on their phone where the app wasn't available. The government is working on changing this.

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What's the verdict?

Most readers told us they've found the app clear and easy to use.

“Very straightforward to use,” said Colin Phillip Shaw, 66, in Weimar. “FAQs covered everything I wanted to know.”

Merissa Silk, 38, in Berlin, said: “It was very easy to get set up. However, it doesn't do a great job explaining what to expect if/when you cross paths with someone who tests positive for Covid.

“This information is included, but it's a bit buried. It would be helpful if the app gave a bit of context about what to expect over time as you have the app installed.”

Joanne Galvin, 62, in Munich said it felt “reassuring” that it was so simple to use.

None of the Local readers who contacted us had received warnings on the app yet. However, as we reported, only a small number have likely received alerts so far as the app gets up and running.

Option for English is advantage

For foreigners, the option that it can be used in English (not only German) is particularly useful – and this point was mentioned by nearly all respondents.

Andrew Stevenson, 43, in Berlin, said: “Simple to use. A German app available in English”

Fernando Rossi Goncalves, 38, in Berlin, said: “It's well designed, in good English (so far no random German forgotten corners), simple and instructional. Definitely the best government app by far I've seen in this country (maybe only one?)”

Rajakrishnan Vallur Sridhar, 28, in Stutensee, said: “Simple and intuitive user interface, the option of English for expats is also an advantage.”

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder showing Health Minister Jens Spahn the new app. Photo: DPA

Privacy important

The design of the app was also praised.

Andrew Maul, 38, in Dresden said: “Very clean design and easy to understand. It automatically detected English as my preferred language based on the settings already in my smartphone. Activation was simple, and risk level was displayed after two days of use. No difference on battery life as far as I can tell.”

Bob Swan, 66, in Berlin described it as “easy to use although you have to have your phone on you at all times”. 

Privacy was a major concern about the app before it was launched. However, the developers have tried to make this a top priority – something that's not gone unnoticed by users.

Fred Bergklo, 28, in Berlin, said: “I like that it’s decentralized and RKI seem to have taken privacy very seriously when building, which I appreciate. And for once, the terms of use and GDPR responsibilities was displayed in a very readable manner.”

Harsha Yogasundram, 48, also in Berlin, added: “Clear instructions, sound privacy standards, open source so all the documentation is available so if you’re technical you can see exactly how it’s built.”

What are the downsides?

The number of potential users could be higher but there are some technology limitations.

So far the app does not work on some older mobile phones. Users need to have at least an iPhone 6s or an Android 6.

And not everyone is so convinced about the app actually working.

James Ramsay, 56, in Berlin said: “Difficult to say what is good about it. So far it doesn’t do much, which is maybe a good sign (Corona-wise). But sure, easy to install and set up for what that is worth.”

Lots of readers said it would be much improved if it was available in other countries' app stores.

Thomas Ormston, 36, in Darmstadt, said this “significantly hampers uptake amongst expats”.

Fernando Rossi Goncalves, 38, in Berlin added: “It's not available in international App Store, meaning many foreigners—who are probable owners of iPhones with iOS 13 (which is required for the app to run)—are simply not able to install it. A lot of barriers to entry here.”

Imogen Evans, 45, in Leipzig, said: “Can't access it due to having an English Google account and Play store but I have a German phone number and contract.”

Initially, the app was only available through the Germany Apple and Google stores. However, Germany is working to expand this and make it available in other country's stores.

So far it's been extended to app stores connected to the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, Romania and Bulgaria, as the government update shows below.

And Local readers contacted us after we published this story to say it's also available now in other countries including the UK, Switzerland and Spain.

Photo: DPA

Some readers said they'd like more helpful instructions.

Moiz Taimuri, 27, in Munich, said: “I have no idea how to use it: no clear instructions for foreigners.”

What else could Germany do to make the app better?

Other respondents suggested making the app even more useful with info about the local coronavirus situation.

Brendon Lenihan, 49, in Berlin, said: “Add a link to information regarding virus cases in your area on a 7 day rolling basis, so that you are more aware of what the situation is in your locality.

“Push notifications to changes in the guidelines on social distancing in your local area. As the information and changes are location based.”

Praveen Sanjeev, 35, in Munich, said the app, which is voluntary, should be made mandatory. “Only problem is that it is optional,” Sanjeev said.

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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