Europeans plan to use apps to track viruses

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LONDON (AP) – Doubts were growing on Thursday whether the ambitious plans of European governments to use contact tracing applications to combat the spread of the coronavirus could soon be implemented with real effectiveness.

On the other hand, there seems to have been some progress in the sprint to find a vaccine against COVID-19, supported by a $ 1 billion investment by the US agency for vaccines.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged on Wednesday to set up a “test, follow-up and traceability” program for COVID-19 by June 1 as part of a strategy to persuade the country that ‘it is safe to take the next step to loosen the lock. and restart the economy.

But the government has also appeared to backtrack on a previous commitment to make a smartphone app a mainstay of the program.

Security Minister James Brokenshire told the BBC on Thursday that he remains “confident” that the tracking system will be in place by June 1, but has acknowledged that an application to help track the virus was not ready. He suggested that “technical problems” were the reason for his failure as planned in mid-May.

Experts say being able to quickly identify people exposed to the virus can help stop the spread of infectious respiratory disease, but efforts to develop apps have encountered technical problems and fears of privacy intrusions.

The French government was also forced to delay the deployment of its planned contact tracing application. Originally expected last week as the country began to lift containment measures, it will not be ready until next month due to technical and privacy concerns.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Thursday that the country’s contact finder will begin testing “in the next few days”. But he did not specify whether Italy had hired contact teams to conduct interviews and get in touch with people who had been in contact with COVID-19 patients, as did other European countries .

Spanish Economy Minister Nadia Calviño told parliament on Wednesday that Spain was preparing to test a Bluetooth-based European application in the Canary Islands in late June.

But the adoption of the app has lagged behind the hiring of old-fashioned human tracers in Spain. The government has said the technology will only be adopted if it adds value to the tracking efforts of the country’s 17 regional governments.

Meanwhile, drug maker AstraZeneca said Thursday it has entered into the first deals for 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine which is currently being tested at Oxford University, one of the most advanced projects in looking for a vaccine.

The Anglo-Swedish company said it had received more than $ 1 billion from the U.S. Medical Advanced Research and Development Authority for the development, production and delivery of the vaccine, starting this fall.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said the company “will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available.”

Around the world, the recovery drive is raising concerns about the risk of new infections.

In Italy, one of the most affected countries in Europe, authorities have warned that people are violating social distancing guidelines after the lifting of a hard lock, threatening the country’s recovery.

“Now is not the time for parties, nightlife and gatherings,” Conte told Parliament. ” Pay attention. Because exposing yourself to contagion is exposing your loved ones to contagion. “

The mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, said that he asked the local police to increase the patrols of the night places, to be more severe by distributing fines and to close all the bars or restaurants in flagrant violation of the rules .

Cases in Milan, the seat of the hard-hit Lombardy region, are increasing as Italy continues to ease its long lockdown. Since Sunday, there have been 137 new cases in the city of 1.4 million people.

From meat packing plants in Colorado to garment factories in Bangladesh, workers are concerned about the risks they face when they return to work after closings. Security issues apply even at the highest levels of the political spectrum.

In China, the country’s Communist leadership was taking important precautions to prevent infection during the opening of its National People’s Congress on Friday and a side meeting of councilors on Thursday. Meetings in Beijing were delayed almost two months due to the pandemic.

A congressional epidemic would be a potential public relations nightmare as President Xi Jinping reports on Beijing’s apparent success in fighting the coronavirus that emerged in central Wuhan late last year.

About 5 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected and more than 328,000 deaths have been recorded. This includes more than 93,000 in the United States and about 165,000 in Europe, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University, based on government data. Experts believe that the real balance sheet is significantly higher.

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Kurtenbach reported from Bangkok and Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to it.

Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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