China launches app to identify 'close contact' with coronavirus

China has launched an app that aims to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the pneumonia-like illness that's infected more than 42,000 people and claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Dubbed the "close contact detector," the app is designed to let users know if they're at risk of contracting the disease based on how close in proximity they've been to someone who's infected or suspected of being infected, according to a report in Xinhua, China's state-run news agency.

To check their status, users scan a QR code on their smartphone using apps such as Alipay, WeChat or QQ. After the app is registered with the phone, users are directed to enter their name and ID number. Every registered phone can then be used to check the status of three other ID numbers, Xinhua reported.

The report didn't detail how the app determines exposure, but it defines close contact as when someone lacking effective protection has come within a close distance of someone who has or is showing signs of having the coronavirus symptoms.

The definition covers people who work closely together, share a classroom or live in the same house, as well as medical personnel who've been with coronavirus patients, and passengers on mass transit where a patient or possible patient has been present.

The app was jointly developed by the General Office of the State Council, the National Health Commission and China Electronics Technology Group Corporations, with support from several Chinese government departments.

The illness was first reported to the World Health Organization on New Year's Eve and in the intervening weeks was linked to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses, the same family responsible for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), as well as some cases of the common cold. There are no approved treatments for coronaviruses, but the WHO said on Tuesday that a vaccine could be ready in 18 months.