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Australia rules out Apple-Google coronavirus tracing method

June 29, 2020 12:48 pm

Australia’s coronavirus contact tracing app will not switch to the model supported by Apple and Google.

This is because by doing so would not provide the details of potentially exposed people to tracing teams, Australia’s deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth says.

Several countries have in recent weeks either delayed development of their own contact-tracing apps or decided to switch to Apple and Google’s offering, which wasn’t ready when Australia first decided to launch its $2 million COVIDSafe app on April 26.

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The countries have made the switch because of technical issues that have plagued nations such as Australia and have resulted in not all potential close contact data being collected.

Testing data provided to the Senate showed the effectiveness of the Australian app, particularly on Apple iPhones, remains an issue. The app only worked 25 to 50 per cent of the time during locked iPhone-to-iPhone testing on May 26. At launch, it was worse, working only 25 per cent of the time or less for locked iPhone to locked iPhone. When running in the background, it also didn’t work well.

“As for the Apple Google app, it fundamentally changes the locus of control and takes out the middle person and the middle person is the contact tracer, the people who have kept us safe,” Dr Coatsworth told Channel Ten’s The Project. “There’s no way we’re shifting to a platform that will take out the contact tracers.”

So far, the COVIDSafe app has not identified any close contacts of a person infected with coronavirus who had not already been found through manual contact tracing.

On the COVIDSafe app’s launch day, 6696 Australians had coronavirus. Since then, a further 990 cases have been identified, many returned travellers. Of the 990, only 10 people in NSW and 30 in Victoria have had the COVIDSafe app and have allowed health officials to look at their close contact data.

Victoria had said it used the app to discover one contact who had not been identified by manual tracers. However, that person was subsequently ruled not to be a “close contact”.

Switzerland last week became among the first in the world to roll-out the Apple-Google version, first to members of its army, hospital workers and civil servants before a wider rollout.

Latvia is also pursuing the model supported by the tech giants, as is Britain, whose Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week the country was delaying the development of its own app and moving to the Apple-Google version because “no country currently has a functioning track and trace app”. Ireland also has launched its own app using the Apple and Google model.

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