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Osaka Pref. launches virus tracing, warning system using personal emails

An Osaka Prefectural Government employee demonstrates how to register an email with a system to send alerts to users if someone who has been to the same facility on the same day tests positive for the coronavirus, at the prefectural headquarters in Osaka's Chuo Ward, on May 29, 2020. (Mainichi/Hirokage Tabata)

OSAKA -- The Osaka Prefectural Government on May 29 launched a system for people to register their email addresses at shops and other locales they visit, enabling it to warn them if they have potentially come into contact with someone infected with the novel coronavirus.

Shops, event organizers and other facilities post a QR code issued by the "Osaka COVID-19 Tracing System" at the entrance. Visitors can then read the code with their smartphones and register their email addresses online. Registrants will then be informed by email if someone else who has been in the same spot on the same day tests positive for the virus, depending on the infection risk and conditions at the facility. A total of 2,586 people had registered with the system as of 4 p.m. on May 29.

The prefectural government demonstrated the system to the press in front of a cafeteria at its headquarters. An official read a QR code put at the entrance with a smartphone and explained how to register.

"It takes less than a minute to enter your email address twice. Registration for a facility operator can also be completed in just a few minutes," the official said.

The system covers facilities that were requested to close temporarily by the prefectural government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. All such facilities in the prefecture except restaurants were given the green light to reopen on May 29. Eateries will follow on June 1.

The email registration and notification system is hoped to make it easier for the authorities to track down infection routes and control any further coronavirus outbreaks. While registrants will not generally be told when and where the potential transmission took place, they will be given that information if there is a cluster infection, as long as the facility consents.

The prefectural government manages email addresses but does not collect the names of registrants.

Toshiaki Kano, a counsellor at the general affairs division of the prefectural government's smart city strategy department, said, "(The system) is useful to prevent an epidemic. We hope many facility operators and users will cooperate to make the system work."

(Japanese original by Hirokage Tabata, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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