Anti-vaxxers' latest ploy to bypass contact tracing stuns authorities

Anti-vaxxers have added a new protest strategy to their armoury. Following on from demonstrations in major cities and bogus consultations with GPs, the COVID tracking system is now under threat.

Guardian Australia reports that anti-vax and anti-lockdown groups are sharing a link to a fake check-in app that appears to show they have checked in as required but no data has been registered so no contact tracing is possible if required.

The link, which is being shared through several rebel groups, allows dissenters to enter a store without arguing with the business owner.

Guardian Australia explains: “The user simply enters their name and a check-in location, and the app instantly generates a check-in confirmation screen that is near-identical to those displayed on government-run apps in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

Read: Older Australians may need COVID booster from early next year

“The app passes no information to government, making it difficult for contact tracers to find people in the event of an outbreak.”

A COVID conspiracy website explains that the “simple workaround” creates what looks like a COVID QR tick of approval, but it doesn’t send private information to the government.

Users are told to “flash the tick quickly”.

The Guardian says the app is being promoted via at least six anti-lockdown groups with almost 15,000 members.

Anti-vaxxer groups have been roundly condemned at multiple levels, but confusing messaging about vaccines and lockdowns are assisting their agenda, academics argue.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard says vaccines are “the way out”. “There is only one solution here and that is to get vaccinated,” he says. “Dismiss the ideas that aren’t based in science, on medicine, or are propagated by anti-vaxxers who live in another universe.”

Read: The COVID-19 ‘vaccine passport’ is coming. Here’s how it will work

Likewise, GPs are calling out the “atrocious” anti-vax ambush consultations aimed to ‘educate’ doctors on informed consent.

RACGP president Dr Karen Price says the campaign is “completely unacceptable”.

“General practice staff are working extremely hard in challenging circumstances – including managing frustrated and abusive patients – to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, as well as take care of their usual appointments. The last thing they need is anti-vaxxers harassing and degrading them at their place of work,’ she says.

PHD candidate and University of Queensland Global Change scholar Bernadette Hyland-Wood says Australia’s slow vaccine rollout has added to “a dissolution in public trust”.

“Eighteen months ago, when we felt we were all in it together, there was a sense of urgency,” Ms Hyland-Wood told the ABC.

“This period in between availability of the vaccine – and where we are today – has allowed doubt and thoughts and misinformation to really promulgate. We have to be very proactive about combatting misinformation.”

She says the science shows there will always be a proportion of people who have extreme anti-vaxxer views and “they’re unlikely to come to the other side”.

Gently encouraging people, not marginalising them, not lumping them together, not being disrespectful is the way to cut through, she says.

“We always have to defer to the science and the medical practitioners, but I think making it [vaccination] a common conversation … having those communications and conversations with people around us will do a great deal,” she says.

Read: Why Aussie rapid COVID tests are heading overseas

Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett says the use of a fake check-in app was beyond belief and that the data was accessed by authorities only in the event of an outbreak.

Deliberately avoiding checking in can only hamper contact tracing and extend lockdowns, she says.

“Every time we slow down the identification of people at risk of infection, we potentially expose many more and the outbreak grows,” Prof. Bennett says. “Every time a case goes undetected in the community, we end up with not only more cases, but more infected people who won’t even be aware they have been exposed, so they won’t be tested until they are sick themselves.

“Failing to check in, or using a fake check-in app, is the surest path to extending lockdown.”

Do you have sympathy for anti-vaxxer groups? Do you think confusing messaging on vaccines and lockdowns have been a contributing factor in swelling their numbers? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Janelle Ward



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