According to a recent statement by Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt, the newly launched COVIDSafe contact tracing app in the country has seen more than 2 million downloads, just over 24 hours since the app was available for registration on 26 April.
The COVIDSafe resource website explains that the smartphone-based app helps state and territory health officials to quickly contact people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. State and territory health officials can only access app information if someone tests positive and agrees to the information in their phone being uploaded. The health officials can only use the app information to help alert those who may need to quarantine or get tested.
It is the only contact tracing app that is approved by the Australian Government.
HOW IT WORKS
COVIDSafe recognizes other devices with the COVIDSafe app installed and Bluetooth enabled. When the app recognizes another user, it notes the date, time, distance and duration of the contact and the other user’s reference code. The information is encrypted and that encrypted identifier is stored securely on the user’s phone.
To be effective, users should have the COVIDSafe app running as they go about their daily business and come into contact with people. Users will receive daily notifications to ensure the COVIDSafe app is running.
The contact information stored in people’s mobiles is deleted on a 21-day rolling cycle. This period takes into account the COVID-19 incubation period and the time it takes to get tested.
THE LARGER TREND
While the World Health Organization has said that contact tracing is important because it helps identify individuals that are at risk of becoming infected, and who could then go on to spread the disease, a new review published by the Ada Lovelace Institute in the United Kingdom has warned of contact tracing’s technical limitations.
These limitations include imprecision in detecting ‘contact’, imprecision in detecting distance and vulnerability to fraud and abuse.
At the end of March, the Singapore Government developed a contact tracing app named TraceTogether, which saw about 620,000 downloads 3 days after its launch. According to an article by ehealthnews.nz, New Zealand’s national contact tracing app will be available from mid-May, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern remains “skeptical” about the benefits it will deliver because it requires such a large proportion of New Zealanders to download and run it.