Thursday, 14 May 2020

Saga of the Morrison Government's COVIDSafe App

The New Daily
First came the announcement that the Australian Dept. of Health was creating a virus contact tracing app to allow health officials to discover how many people had been in contact with future confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection.

This announcement was followed with an app name, COVIDSafe. Branding it would appear that was shamelessly filched from another app being trialled in the United States.

Soon after we were told that at least 40 per cent of the Australian population would have to voluntarily download the free app for tracing to be an effective public health tool.

Once the $1.5 million app was released on the evening of Sunday 26 April 2020 it was found to only be supported by a ministerial determination rather than legislation and, to be riddled with design & implementation flaws. Some of which were dangerous to the wellbeing of individuals whose vital health aids were supported by Bluetooth.

Draft legislation limited in scope and publication of the app source code surfaced days later.

By 1 May Prime Minister Morrison was reported as saying that easing COVID-19 public health restrictions and a return to normality will depend on uptake of the Covidsafe contact tracing app.

On 4 May the app's visuals were slightly changed and a few bugs were allegedly fixed in an automatic update. However, significant problems with use continued to be reported.

By 9 May it was obvious that the more than 10 million people needed to make digital contact tracing effective were not about to materialise.

Once the number of app downloads failed to reach 6 million the Morrison Government's rhetoric changed.

It went from saying '4 million downloads were required', to 'as many downloads as possible is the aim' and on to 'there is no target number set' for app downloads.

It also ceased linking download/registration numbers with the easing of public health restrictions and, by 8 May the National Cabinet had released its three-step plan to ease restrictions which the states and territories are beginning to implement subject to their own individual circumstances.

So it comes as no surprise to hear that the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 has been told that virus contact tracing is not dependent on the use of the app and, tracing methods currently in place will continue even after the app tracing system is fully operational.

It would appear that Morrison & Co were lying when they stated or implied that easing public health restrictions was dependent on widespread uptake of the app. 

Despite people installing and registering the COVIDsafe app from 27 April onwards, as of Wednesday 13 May the app tracing sytem was not yet fully operational because health departments in the states and territories are yet to avail themselves of the virus contact database.

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