Japan to launch new contact tracing app using QR codes

To help prevent clusters of infection with the novel coronavirus, the government has decided to introduce a new QR code system for locating people who have been in close contact with infected persons.

The government plans to start using the contact tracing system on a trial basis in part of the Tokyo metropolitan area in August. It particularly hopes to prevent new clusters among young people.

Local governments will provide restaurants, event venues, cinemas and other public places with QR codes, and patrons will be asked to scan the codes with their smartphones and register their phone numbers. Local authorities will take steps to prevent the leaking of people’s personal information.

If someone who visited a certain location tests positive for the virus, health centers or other authorities will alert people who were there at around the same time to identify who was in close contact with the infected person.

In Tokyo, which is under a fourth state of emergency, contact tracing is not possible for about 60% of the people who newly test positive.

The percentage of untraceable persons tends to be higher in urban areas. The government believes using the QR code system will help in urban areas, where younger people move around more than in rural areas.

The government developed another smartphone app, called COCOA (COVID-19 Contact-Confirming Application), for contact tracing last year that notifies users about possible close contact with an infected person. However, this app has not spread widely and is limited in its ability to specify where an infection might have occurred.