The modalities and the safeguards of both tracing and tracking differ among the different East Asian countries. Let us briefly review them:
- As of today Japan is the most cautious, limiting tracking to anonymized data from telephone operators, and only for patients who are actually infected, in order to identify potential clusters. In addition, users can self-report their symptoms on a public health application. But Japan imposes isolated hospitalization for anyone presenting a symptom.
- In contrast, South Korea and Hong Kong practice the most intrusive and coercive digital tracking. In Korea, tracing first targeted members of a religious sect that had travelled to Wuhan, and was followed by the mandatory tracking of all movements of its members. The obligation to track, without consent, is extended to all the people with, or likely to have, symptoms, based on a combination of telephone and location data; the use of credit cards; and video surveillance (in particular for the use of masks), all without judicial intervention. People under quarantine are tracked by an application managed by the Ministry of the Interior. In Hong Kong, the mandatory tracing of visitors and of people with symptoms is now accompanied by the mandatory wearing of electronic bracelets for arrivals and persons in quarantine.
- Between these two options, Singapore and Taiwan represent a middle ground. In Taiwan, data on border arrivals are cross-referenced with data from medical consultations to identify potential patients. People in quarantine are equipped with telephones to monitor their location, and they are even publicly identified in the event of breaches of the quarantine.
None of the above is pleasant. But with the exception of Singapore (which will pose the problem of source code verification), the other countries mentioned are all democracies. None of these countries has had to adopt a total lockdown - but all of them understand the quarantine of certain categories of individuals (patients, newcomers...) as total isolation, and not a simple retreat into a family space that is very vulnerable to contamination. All of them, even Korea, which was hit by the mass accident of a religious sect, have much lower human tolls than ours. All of them have retained a large part of their economic activities, as Google's mobility data shows. We leave the Chinese case aside, as many problems remain and facts themselves are not sufficiently verified.
To sum up for our fellow citizens: we have completely lost our freedom of movement, a sacrifice that is essential if we are to break the epidemic curve. The economic price is huge. We know that an unconditional exit from the lockdown is a myth, and that many intermediate measures must be taken. We are faced with a situation that is both exceptional and of finite duration, even if it remains impossible to specify it.
As such, the step by step exit from the lockdown cannot afford to do without tracing and tracking instruments. The government is tackling this issue with a bit of a head start, and that is a good thing. For solutions to be both effective and accepted, there are several requirements: first, as soon as possible, a separate management from that of the Ministry of the Interior, and therefore an upgrading of the capacities of the Ministry of Health. Secondly, open and verifiable source codes, as well as guarantees on the length of conservation of data and its supervision afterwards (because urgency is presently uponus). To this end, citizens’ trust is crucial. Equipping the French people with mobile phones of a sufficient standard must be facilitated, in order to reach the critical mass of users, which epidemiologists estimate at two-thirds of the population. For the same reason, it is counterproductive, even if politically very tempting, to limit ourselves to a voluntary use of these instruments. This is the price to pay for the health of French citizens.
Ideally, European standards and norms - especially in the Schengen area - should be adopted quickly. In the short term, this amounts to mixing up totally different situations in terms of epidemics (Italy: 16,000 deaths; Denmark: 187), and thus delaying the whole process. And yet this same disparity is found within countries themselves. Asia combines other measures with a generalized closure of borders for people, which is not sustainable anywhere in the long run. The digital applications that France will adopt must be open enough from the outset to be suitable for visitors, starting with international carriers. European harmonization must be the next step.
Copyright : Odd ANDERSEN / AFP