Japan Rolls Out COVID-19 Contact-Tracing App

TOKYO – The Japanese Health Ministry has released a smartphone application that notifies users if they have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 to help combat the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus.

The COVID-19 Contact Confirming Application, or “COCOA” was developed by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) together with the Executive Office of the Anti-COVID-19 Tech Team of the Cabinet Secretariat, volunteers from the private sector, including the COVID-19 Radar Japan, among others, using technology developed by Microsoft engineers.

The contact-tracing app, which can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Store, uses bluetooth to gather information whenever it comes into a one-meter distance with the user of another device for 15 minutes or more. The collected data will be stored in each user’s devices, and will be automatically deleted after 14 days.

“Those who may have contacted with  person or persons tested positive for new coronavirus infection may receive the notice,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters at a press conference Friday.

“Once you have received the notice, please launch COCOA to check the contact with the person or persons tested positive,” he said.

He elaborated, “Fill in the information concerning whether you have any symptom, etc. on COCOA, and you will get the information on how you can get support from the healthcare center, or how you can get tested.”

Kato added that “when possible contacts with a person or persons tested positive are confirmed, it is possible to see how many contacts there were on a day-by-day basis.”

However, he assured users that COCOA has privacy features, and doesn’t collect and store personal data like location and phone numbers.

“The information of the close contact is designed to be managed exclusively on the smartphones, and not to be released to outside,” he said.

“It is designed so that the information of who one met when and where is not known to either of the parties,” he went on.

The MHLW is encouraging people to make full use of the application.

“We believe the application will work better and better to prevent spread of the disease as the number of users increases,” Kato said.

The COCOA app, which is still on trial version, has seen 3.71 million downloads as of 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Japan has 17,916 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, with 953 deaths to date. - Florenda Corpuz