Call for COVIDSafe app to be scrapped after woeful performance

Federal Labor is suggesting the time has come to scrap the contact-tracing COVIDSafe app after it found just two potential close contacts in six months. 

Across the period from mid-May to mid-November, including major outbreaks and lockdowns across New South Wales and Victoria, just 13 people consented to their data being used for contact tracing.

That resulted in only nine useful ‘encounters’ being identified, two of whom were considered possible close contacts.

The multimillion-dollar app relies on Bluetooth technology to register other users in close proximity, and its effectiveness fades as fewer people actively use the app.

In its latest report on the app, the Federal Health Department suggests registrations spiked alongside the Sydney and Melbourne lockdowns in June and July.

It also argues the app “continues to play a role, as one of the tools available, to complement the manual contact tracing processes of state and territory [officials]”.

But shadow health minister Mark Butler argues it is time the app is either overhauled entirely or abandoned altogether.

“Scott Morrison’s app has been useless,” he said.

“Contact tracing is just another job Scott Morrison has foregone to the states.

“The PM either needs to take responsibility and start again or stop wasting taxpayers’ money on his failed app.”

By late September, the ABC confirmed the app had not identified any close contacts that had not already been found manually during the NSW, Victorian and ACT outbreaks.

App updated for Delta in October
Despite those outbreaks being driven by the Delta variant of COVID-19, the app was not recalibrated to better suit the more infectious variant until late in the year.

Adjustments were made to allow contact-tracers to see interactions between people of just one minute or more, rather than 15 minutes or more under previous settings.

Those changes were made in mid-October, around the time New South Wales was easing restrictions after hitting 70 and 80 per cent vaccine milestones.

The report acknowledges contact tracing will become less relevant as more states begin to live with significant caseloads and focus on hospitalisations and serious illness.

But the Health Department argues the app will still have a role to play.

“While the role of contact tracing will diminish as we transition into living with COVID-19, it is important to maintain tools such as this to assist contact tracers manage outbreaks and reduce the spread of COVID-19 where possible,” the report reads.

As of late September, the total cost of the app had reached over $9 million.

Mr Butler said the cost was becoming too great.

“That is an embarrassment and not value for money,” he said.

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