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German ministers in quarantine as country marks virus app milestone

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has gone into quarantine due to a coronavirus scare, as his colleagues in government appealed to the public to make greater use of the country's track-and-trace app.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has gone into quarantine due to a coronavirus scare, as his colleagues in government appealed to the public to make greater use of the country’s track-and-trace app.

Maas began quarantining after it emerged that one of his bodyguards had caught the coronavirus, the Foreign Office said on Wednesday. An initial test for 54-year-old Maas has come back negative.

It remains unclear how the precautionary measure will impact the work of Germany’s top diplomat. He worked from home the rest of Wednesday and took part in several video conferences.

Maas cancelled a planned trip Wednesday afternoon to the Jordanian capital Amman, where he was to meet the French and Jordanian foreign ministers.

Germany’s Economy Minister Peter Altmaier tweeted late Wednesday that he has also gone into self-isolation at home as a precautionary measure.

“This afternoon I learned that an employee of an EU minister at the EU trade ministers’ meeting in Berlin had tested positive for the coronavirus. As a precautionary measure, I went into quarantine at home. I tested negative on Friday and I am doing very well,” the 62-year-old tweeted.

Maas and Altmaier are not the first members of the government to self-isolate due to a coronavirus scare.

Chancellor Angela Merkel spent two weeks in home quarantine in March after she had contact with a doctor who tested positive for the virus. She tested negative at the time.

Wednesday marked 100 days since the release of the German government’s “Corona Warn App,” a voluntary means of recording positive test results and anonymously alerting users who have come into contact with a known case of the virus.

“Please make use of this tool during the pandemic,” Health Minister Jens Spahn urged.

The app informs users if they have come into contact with another user who has registered a positive coronavirus test result. To date, this was occurring in only around half of cases, Spahn said.

So far, almost 5,000 app users have alerted their contacts regarding a positive test. Assuming they each have 10 to 20 contacts, several thousand people have been warned.

In the event of an alert, the user is eligible for a free test.

Government officials described the app as “a major success story.” It has been downloaded around 18 million times, more than any other in Europe, said Helge Braun, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff.

The manufacturers of the app, computer software company SAP and Deutsche Telekom, said they were adding new functions and that it would work in 10 other European countries.

The app would in future record details of symptoms on a voluntary basis. “These data will not be shared but saved locally on the smartphone,” SAP head of technology Juergen Mueller said.

Telekom chief executive Tim Hoettges said the app would be rolled out in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, where it would communicate with national apps in place there.

Braun noted that France, with its central approach to data storage, could not be integrated. Privacy has been touted as a main feature with the German app.

Germany late on Wednesday declared regions of 11 countries within the European Union to be risk areas from which returning travellers must be tested for coronavirus and quarantine for up to 14 days.

The list updated by Germany’s disease control body, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), includes regions of neighbouring Denmark, the Czech Republic, France, Austria and the Netherlands.

Overall, Germany now designates 14 of the 27 EU member states fully or partially as risk areas.

The RKI meanwhile said that it had recorded 1,769 new coronavirus infections over a single day, raising the total of proven infections to 275,927.

The total death toll currently stands at 9,409, 13 up on the day.

On Saturday, the RKI recorded 2,297 new infections over a single day, the highest level since April.

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