Tracking chains of infection: still no corona app

A lot is going wrong with corona containment: too few staff in health offices, too few tests – and the cell phone app is a long time coming.

Infected people should be able to remember who they met, when and where, until the app arrives Photo: Christophe Ena/dpa

For a relaxation of the Corona restrictions, the federal government had originally once defined clear conditions: In order to avoid a resurgence in the number of infected people after the first wave had flattened out, it would have to be possible to trace new cases as comprehensively as possible, a strategy paper from the Interior Ministry said at the end of March. In addition to a significant increase in testing capacity, what is needed above all is an "efficient and well-coordinated contact search by hand and by Big Data (location tracking and so on).

Six weeks later, however, this goal has only been partially achieved. In order to better identify the contact persons of infected persons, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) offered to finance a total of 525 additional positions for the health authorities. 493 of these were then actually to come after a survey of the need. Although more than 10,000 people had applied by the end of March, however, only 346 positions have been filled so far, or 70 percent. That emerges from the current internal situation report of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior, which is available to the taz.

There are major differences between the federal states: While in Saarland all the planned positions have already been filled, and in Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia at least around 90 percent, in Lower Saxony, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate it is only about half, and in the other states even less. Hamburg is not participating in the Robert Koch Institute project at all.

Moreover, these "scouts" can still only identify and contact the contact persons manually on the basis of the infected person’s memory. The planned cell phone app, which could greatly facilitate and improve this process, still does not exist. The fact that it could not be launched in mid-April as planned is partly due to the fact that the German government initially sought centralized storage of the data collected; it only switched to a decentralized solution after protests from data protectionists.

Google adapts its operating system for Corona app

Secondly, the implementation is apparently more complicated than expected. A procedure is now planned in which a cell phone uses Bluetooth to determine which other cell phone is in the vicinity of less than two meters for several minutes and stores an anonymous, temporary code of this device locally. When a user tests positive, all the phones he or she has come close to in the days before are informed.

To make this possible, Google and Apple are currently adapting their operating systems. The Bluetooth contact data will only be able to be used by one official app per country; the German version is currently being programmed by Telekom and SAP in cooperation with the RKI. No date is given for when it will be ready for use.

And even if all contact persons could be identified in the future, it is unclear whether they would also be tested for the coronavirus; so far, this only happens if they also show symptoms. Although the testing capacity has been greatly expanded in recent weeks, it is currently far from being exhausted. About one third of the laboratories report a shortage of necessary reagents.

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