April 24, 2020 / 12:05 PM / a month ago

Belgium will not use coronavirus contact tracing apps - minister

A man and a boy wearing gloves and protective masks ride their bicycles during the lockdown imposed by the Belgian government to slow down the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Brussels, Belgium April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Belgian government has decided not to use apps to trace the path of coronavirus infections, Telecommunications Minister Philippe De Backer said, in a U-turn after initially pushing the idea.

While Belgium was one of the first European nations to voice interest in mobile data and the development of smartphone apps to pinpoint those in the country of 11.5 million at risk of infection, De Backer said this had been ruled out for now.

“There is no need for an app for contact tracing, it can be done manually and it has been around for years,” he told Belgian television channel VRT on Thursday.

While contact tracing apps are already used in Asian countries hard hit by coronavirus outbreaks, copying their approach by using location data would violate tight privacy laws in the European Union.

Earlier this month, the European Data Protection Supervisor called for a pan-European mobile app to track the spread of the new coronavirus instead of the current variety of apps sprouting up in individual EU countries.

Belgium has recorded 42,797 cases of COVID-19 infections and 6,490 deaths from the highly contagious lung disease.

Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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