Without effective contact tracing, we’re driving blind: WHO

Without effective tracing in place, we’re ‘driving blind’, health body warns.

contact tracing essential

Privacy advocates have raised new concerns about COVIDSafe, the federal government’s coronavirus tracing app, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns countries of the dangers of failing to have effective virus tracing.

There were 5.5 million downloads of the app by Monday afternoon – well short of the government’s target of 40 per cent of the adult population – with civil liberties groups lobbying for a design change to ensure personal data is not stored on a central database. They argue that increases the danger of a single cyber attack.

But the need to find consensus and overcome these difficulties is acute, according to WHO.

WHO emergencies chief Dr Michael Ryan has warned countries they cannot afford to “drive blind” by reopening their economies without first establishing strong contact tracing to contain COVID-19 spot fires.

He said that robust measures adopted by Germany and South Korea offered hope that those countries could detect and stop virus clusters before they spread out of control. But he said the same was not true of other countries exiting their lockdowns.

“Shutting your eyes and trying to drive through this blind is about as silly an equation as I’ve seen,” Dr Ryan said. “And I’m really concerned that certain countries are setting themselves up for some seriously blind driving over the next few months.

“If the disease persists at a low level without the possibility to investigate clusters, there’s always the possibility that the virus takes off again.”

France and Belgium are emerging from lockdowns, the Netherlands has sent children back to school, and a number of US states are lifting business restrictions. Britain is recruiting 18,000 people to track contacts while developing contact-tracing a mobile phone app.

In New York, the governor has set a mandate of 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents for areas to be permitted to reopen.

In Germany, where new virus clusters have been linked to three slaughterhouses, authorities have spelt out a specific level of infection that would lead to the reinstating of restrictions in local areas. Other countries, including US states, have not set specific targets.

WHO warns that the infection rate could spike again without widespread testing and contact tracing.

The Councils for Civil Liberties in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia have issued a joint statement supporting the need for contact tracing but seeking stronger safeguards.

“More needs to be done to ensure that the app does not compromise data protection and thereby increase the risk of illegal and inappropriate use of data or surveillance of Australians,” they said.

“It is also disappointing that the government has opted for centralised data storage in a national COVIDSafe data store rather than adopting the widely supported and more privacy-friendly decentralised option.

“Cyber attacks and accidental and illegal data breaches will continue to occur on Australian government databases. This storage choice creates a real risk of such breaches and will undermine users' confidence as to the safety of their private data.”

Download COVIDSafe from the Apple App Store (iPhone) or the Google Play Store (Android). Search for COVIDSafe. If you don’t have an iPhone, your phone is most likely an Android.

Have you downloaded the COVIDSafe app? Do you have privacy concerns or do you believe the need for widespread uptake of the app outweighs those concerns?

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    13th May 2020
    It's actually time the civil liberties idiots shut up and stop being dangerous , tracing this virus is essential for later when lockdown becomes less and less, people may not realise but they can be traced any where any time if needed, and why would you care unless you are hiding something. Civil liberties are fine, to protect to a degree, but civil endangerment is a crime, and should be punished as such, there is no enforcement and the whackos come out bleating about their rights well their rights maybe stopping someone avoiding the virus or passing it onwards. Get the app you drongos'.
    13th May 2020
    Get over your self importance and lets have a means of tracing infectious people. After we beat this thing you can become self important again. Oh, and don't forget to get rid of all social media, and turn off your computer forever because if you don't, you can be hacked and all of those big companies will continue to collect data about you.
    13th May 2020
    Typical of our "me", "me" society. How about thinking in terms of "we" and the welfare of our communities and download the CovidSafe app. My understanding is the app doesn't track your location but rather your vicinity to other people who may contract the virus. You can then be warned and take action to get tested and protect your love ones. Where's the downside to that I ask? Our is it simply that people don't trust the morons we have running the country?
    13th May 2020
    While I agree that the CovidApp is a good idea the government also needs to understand that only Australians living in major cities have access to mobile phones.
    The area we live in is rural and mobile phones do not work here.
    13th May 2020
    It uses Bluetooth, after downloading the app you don't need coverage.
    13th May 2020
    Bur if you do not have coverage what is the point of having a mobile phone?
    13th May 2020
    If the Gov supply me with a mobile phone capable of running "the yapp", then I will consider downloading it.

    We have 3 mobile phones in this household - 2 Telstra T96's (which do phone calls and not much else) and an old Samsung Galaxy Y (which runs Android 4-point-something, and is only used when overseas with a TraveSIM).
    None of these are capable of running "the yapp"

    I think the Gov are being dangerously elitist by developing a potentially life-saving "the yapp" which excludes participation by anyone who can't afford to own a late model phone.
    13th May 2020
    The vast majority of apps that are available to download only work on late model phones, it's all part of the way they work.
    13th May 2020
    Greg, my point exactly.
    Why is it so for any that may be important?
    And the vast majority are very very not important.
    13th May 2020
    We had to change our phones about 2 years ago because the phones we had didn’t work on 3G. I bought one from Malaysia for $47 it’s a THL it doesn’t do much, takes terrible photos, I wouldn’t have a clue about using it for video, what it does do is make phone calls, text messages, and it downloaded the app with no problem and is scanning away, happy days.
    13th May 2020
    Our phones are 3 1/2 years old, running 5.1.1 android, not compatible to run Covid Save! Also Greg you are wrong, we can load most other apps available like Finance , banking etc. The Government Developers got it wrong , wrong and did not think this thru.
    Ps. I am ex I T industry. This is a stuff Up! You want maximum people to have it, you make it maximum compatible. No excuse.
    14th May 2020
    Those refusing to download the app from some misplaced 'privacy issues' need to have a long hard look at themselves. I suspect they are the same poeple demanding their 'freedom rights' because they can't deal with having to stay home with themselves! They obviously already have a smartphone and use Bluetooth with no concern at all despite the fact that Bluetooth has been questionable in terms of security for several years. Every one of the objectors have probably done online shopping or other financial transactions which means their data (and far more than the COVID app requires) is already stored on the central database at Amazon - they just don't know it (and no you do not have to have shopped directly with Amazon for that to happen).

    This objection spuriously on privacy grounds is nothing more than a thumbing at the Government and the rest of society.

    Therre will always be a minority who are unable to use any new technology for a number of different reasons, just like with vaccinations. It is encumbant on the rest of us to help protect them by maintaining social distancing, being in a position to identify all possible contacts in the event we contract COVID-19. But that doesn't let those without the app off the hook either. They need to be extra vigilent with their movements and behaviours too.
    Everyone is responsible.

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