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Covid contacting gets crowded

HB Recovery

Keith Newman21 May 2020

The Government’s dumbed-down Covid contact tracing solution, temporarily described as “a digital diary” has entered a crowded market of private apps and computerised and handwritten forms that people are required to engage with when entering business and public premises.

CovidTracer, formally launched this week, is a basic version of the contact tracing software the Ministry of Health and partners have spent millions of dollars developing over the past few months, but so far not deemed up to the full task.

New Zealanders are being urged to voluntarily download the CovidTracer app from Apple and Google online stores and keep a record of their whereabouts.

Rather than replacing the plethora of contact tracing apps and software that have made their way into the market for clubs, groups, organisations and businesses to remain compliant with Government regulations, it is seen as complementary.

Businesses will still need to keep their own records – the time, names, phone numbers and emails of people entering their premises.

The app asks users to create a personal account including name, email address and phone number and to use their phone to scan QR codes (a kind of barcode) wherever they go.

The Ministry of Health has an update expected early in June so users can electronically transmit a record of their activities to the National Close Contact Service (NCCS) in order to be notified if they’ve been in the same location as someone with Covid-19.

It would also enable users to carry out a daily health check-in if they were in isolation or quarantine.

That data is stored on behalf of the Ministry of Health at Amazon Web Services in Sydney for 31 days before being deleted and “will never be shared with any agencies outside the health sector”.

Despite investigating a range of options, including Singapore’s TraceTogether, a derivative Australian version and a CovidCard that would all be Bluetooth-based, it was decided to stay in-house, although options remain open.

The Ministry is actively considering how other technologies might complement CovidTracer to help improve the speed and effectiveness of contact tracing and will release specifications so other developers can use the QR codes to link to the Ministry of Health using its data standards.

The Ministry of Health says the more of us who download NZ CovidTracer the more effective it will be, although it is “designed to support rather than replace existing contact tracing processes”.

Public health units (PHUs) and the National Close Contact Service (NCCS) will continue to lead contact tracing in New Zealand. PHUs have tripled their capacity and can now deal with up to 185 cases a day, while the NCCS now has more than 200 staff who can make up to 10,000 phone calls to close contacts.

The app is compatible with most mobile operating systems and devices, with support for older devices planned. Android devices need to have Android 7.0 or later while Apple devices need iOS 12 or later.

NZBN to register for scan code posters: https://www.business.govt.nz/covid-19/contact-tracing.

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Keith Newman21 May 2020

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