By Paresh Dave
OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) - Alphabet Inc's <GOOGL.O> Google said on Friday that 20 U.S. states and territories, representing about 45% of the country's population, are "exploring" contact tracing apps for the novel coronavirus using a tool it developed with Apple Inc <AAPL.O>.
In addition, the company said public health authorities in 16 countries and regions outside the United States had launched apps using the Apple-Google tool, up from 12 previously. They include Austria, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Gibraltar, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Uruguay.
The technology enables app users to track encounters with other people through Bluetooth signals and anonymously notify contacts if they later become infected with the virus.
Google had previously said in May that three states - Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina - would be launching apps using the exposure notification tool. But South Carolina lawmakers halted the release of the state's app last month, while Alabama officials are still weighing the launch of their completed app. North Dakota's app has yet to launch.
On Friday, Google said the first of the U.S. apps would be released in the "coming weeks," but declined to name the states.
It added that its system with Apple now enables apps launched by different countries to talk to each other, allowing contact-logging to continue even when users cross borders.
Northern Ireland's app, which was released on Friday, is the first that can also trace users in another country, Ireland. The company that developed the app told Reuters that it also is making one for the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; editing by Diane Craft and Tom Brown)