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France rolls out tracing app, further eases anti-virus restrictions

Paris — France has rolled out its "StopCovid" contact tracing app as it continues easing restrictions on normal life aimed at curtailing the coronavirus disease in the country. Within a few hours of its release on Tuesday, the new app had been downloaded to smartphones more than 600,000 times, according to official figures.

Stop Covid Application : Illustration
A woman shows the home page of French smartphone app StopCovid, developed to trace people who test positive for COVID-19, in Paris, France, June 3, 2020. Chesnot/Getty

The controversial app relies on Bluetooth to identify and build a list of other users that one comes in contact with. If any of them have identified themselves as having tested positive, the app will alert others that they may have been exposed to a risk, without ever identifying users to each other.

After initial privacy concerns, the government has stressed that using the app is entirely voluntary; data can be deleted from the server by the user at any point; and it can also be de-activated by the user.

"It's simple, it's easy, it complies with GDPR (European data protection law) etc., and you activate it only after you've gone through all the setup," said Wendy Ann Smith, a psychologist in Paris who had COVID-19 symptoms in March but never got tested. She said she was comfortable using the app: "I have no worries, and I know this isn't about me personally — it helps society as a whole."

Fewer restrictions, with caveats

The tracing app was released the same day that another layer of restrictions was lifted across France. Restaurants and cafés across most of the country can now serve diners at well-spaced tables.

COVID-19 forces top Paris restaurants to turn to takeout 02:16

In the Paris region, where the virus is still circulating, tables are only allowed outdoors. To facilitate outdoor dining, the city has given blanket permission to bars and eateries to set up tables on sidewalks and public squares, as long as they don't block pedestrian traffic. Many restaurants continue to offer takeout.

All elementary schools across the country are now open, but classroom sizes are limited and attendance is still voluntary.

Schools spent weeks leading up to Tuesday re-organizing desks, putting tape markers along hallways and planning how to combine online with in-class learning. All school cafeterias remain closed, and students' lockers are off limits so children have to bring lunches and snacks in with them, and their schoolbooks home every day.

Spain, Italy and other European countries ease lockdown restrictions 09:01

Middle schools are open across most of the country, but only partially in the Paris region. High schools have re-opened in two safer "green zones," where there are fewer infections. Paris is still labelled orange, with some risk, so only vocational schools have been allowed to re-open in and around the capital.

Tuesday also saw museums and monuments permitted to re-open across the country, but many, including the Louvre museum, have opted to wait while they work out how to incorporate social distancing. Some tourist accommodation outside the Paris region has also been allowed to re-open.

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