There has been a lot of talk in the news about Japan’s old school methods of combating the spread of COVID-19, such as contact tracing. However, the government also devised a more high-tech plan for tracing potential virus transmission contacts and released an app they dubbed COCOA (COVID-19 COntact COnfirming Application) on June 19th, 2020. The app is surprisingly simple and non-invasive, so if you’re in Japan, you might want to give it a download.
What Is It?
The COVID-19 Contact Confirming Application (COCOA) is a multilingual smartphone app developed by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. It can be download for free on Android and Apple phones and doesn’t require registration of any kind. Once activated on your phone, it will recognize whenever you come in close contact with someone who also has the app installed on their phone. If you happen to run into someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you will be alerted by the app and can get priority treatment or testing by showing that you had close contact with someone who tested positive. Since the app becomes more effective as the number of users increases, the government is encouraging as many people to begin using the app as possible.
How Does It Work?
The app runs in the background on your phone and works by utilizing Bluetooth to sense and keep track of close contact with other users of the app. If you are within 1 meter of someone for more than 15 minutes, the app will record a close contact. If that person later reports testing positive for the virus, you will be notified by the app that you had a close contact. Likewise, if you yourself test positive, you can enter your test result in the app and thus notify anyone who came in close contact with you during the 14 days prior to your test (the time when you could have potentially been contagious). The app is totally anonymous, and it’s up to the user to decide if they want to register their positive test result or not.
However, in order to register a positive test, users need to correctly enter a “processing number” that they will receive from the testing center. This ensures that only people who are officially confirmed positive are able to register as such.
The app can be downloaded for Apple devices from the App Store: https://apps.apple.com/jp/app/id1516764458
Or for Android devices from Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jp.go.mhlw.covid19radar
Does the Government Track My Location or Record My Personal Information?
Luckily, this app is entirely anonymous and doesn’t require registration or sign-up of any kind. The official website states specifically that the app does not collect any info that would allow the user to be personally identified, such as name, age, gender, address, telephone number, email address, or location. Indeed, since the app uses Bluetooth, not GPS, to track close contacts, your location data is not collected or even necessary for the functioning of the app. The only information that is collected and stored by the app is the record of contacts with other users. However, this data is automatically deleted after 14 days, and users can delete the app whenever, at which time all of their contact data will also be deleted.
Has It Been Effective So Far?
As stated above, the effectiveness of this app hinges on the number of people actively using it. At the time of writing on August 7th, 2020, the app had been downloaded nearly 12 million times, according to data on the official website. That’s nothing to laugh at, and the app is already showing some signs of being effective. To date, 148 users of the app have reported a positive test result, likely resulting in notifications being sent to a much larger number of users. This kind of information is could be critical in helping to catch a case of COVID-19 early or to make sure that someone who might have been exposed takes extra precautions to stop the spread.
Especially now, as cases of COVID-19 in Japan continue to spike to record highs, it seems that this app needs even more users. Especially since it is non-invasive and extremely easy to start using, it is worth considering downloading to your phone. Who knows, it just might end up saving a life.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.