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Taiwan's social distancing app to replace SMS contact tracing

CDC app downloaded over 8 million times, to be configured for official announcements

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File photo of the "Taiwan Social Distancing" at work. 

File photo of the "Taiwan Social Distancing" at work.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As soon as the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) “Taiwan Social Distancing” app is updated to allow official announcements to be posted, it will replace the current text message-based contact tracing system.

During a routine press conference on Monday (April 25), Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said the app, which has been downloaded over 8 million times, is currently undergoing modification. The new version will provide information to users who have been in contact with COVID-19 cases, giving them a better idea of what they should do.

While Chen said he was “not 100% sure” exactly when the update would be ready, he said it would be “very soon” and that he would let everyone know once he is certain.

Currently, “Taiwan Social Distancing” detects nearby users via Bluetooth signals and records the duration of distance from each contact. The app alerts users to any contact they have had with COVID-positive users in the past 14 days through updated data from the CDC.

The app is designed to be decentralized and requires no registration or information to be uploaded. However, due to the decentralized nature of the app, its user base must be large enough for the system to be effective, and users must keep their phones with them at all times for the app’s cross-matching results to be accurate.

Chen said now that it has become difficult for authorities to supervise and confirm whether everyone is reporting their contact and travel history and rapid test results honestly, the government has put faith in the public to practice self-discipline. As Taiwan’s COVID prevention policies transition from enforced measures to more lenient guidelines, self-discipline is crucial to preventing the virus’ spread while maintaining a normal lifestyle, he said.