How COVIDsafe app tracks people 1.5m from you


The Federal Government's new COVIDSafe app will go live this afternoon, with the contact tracing app introduced in aim to provide more information about Australia's COVID-19 cases and ensure tracking can be carried out.

The app is designed to track people who come within 1.5 metres or 15 minutes of you - and has been introduced to further assist national health workers and authorities in flattening the virus curve.

The app is about "finding those cases which may be undiagnosed in the community, helping people get early treatment, helping people have early diagnosis and to ensure that our doctors and nurses, our health workers, our families and friends are protected and that will save lives and protect lives," Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt explained this afternoon.

If someone you have been in that proximity with then tests positive to coronavirus, the data will be used to notify you. 

However there are some teething problems and users are unhappy with its efficiency.

For iPhone users, there are already concerns the app won't work if your phone is locked, or if you're running too many apps.

Experts say while the app will work if your iPhone is locked, if you have too many apps on the go it may not pick up every contact.

Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy address these concerns and others below. 


Making app mandatory would have "breached" relationship with Aussies

Making the COVIDSafe app mandatory would have "breached" the partnership between Federal and State Governments and Australians, Mr Hunt said.

The decision to keep the app voluntary was based on two things, he explained: "values and Australian character".

"We have been fortunate through the relationship with the states and through the virus to develop this incredible Australian relationship and partnership and making it mandatory would have breached that partnership," Mr Hunt said.

"Right from the outset of the Prime Minister said we are really doing this if it is voluntary."


Can the app be used to trace large gatherings?

Mr Hunt reiterated data received from the COVIDSafe app will only be used for the purpose of contact-tracing - even though it could show if people were breaking restrictions and holding house parties or other mass gatherings.

"It is prevented, by law, from being used for any other purpose and to use it for any other purpose is punishable with jail and I think that is a very important protection," Mr Hunt said.

"As a Cabinet we considered all of the possibilities and we said it was to have one job and one use, to protect Australians from the spread of coronavirus and it has no other purpose, nor is it legally able to be used for any other purpose.


Health Minister clears up app's iPhone teething problems

Mr Hunt has addressed teething problems iPhone users have had downloading the app.

There had been concerns the app wouldn't perform if your iPhone was locked, or if you had too many other apps running at the same time.

"In relation to signal strength, essentially we encourage you to have it on but if you have other items, if your phone is locked or if you have other apps running, unlike the original version which was put out in Singapore, because we had the benefit of seeing what happened there, Daniel and his colleagues have been able to work to ensure that that is not an issue in Australia but where there are, like every app, additional strengthening which are developed to be able to improve the capacity with signal strength, we know that Apple, around the world, is working on that and we will provide those upgrades and updates as well."


App will supplement "laborious" work done by thousands of workers

Prof Murphy said the app will supplement the "laborious" work done by the several thousand contact tracers in our public-health units.

"When someone tests positive, they contact them and at the moment there is a very manual process when they find out who they have been in contact with, asked for their phone numbers, ring them up and talk to them.

"That can be a very laborious, manual process.

"What the app does, it helps them with the process, automates that to some extent and helps them get the numbers and helps people he may have forgotten who they have been in contact with."


Australians should have "no concerns" over downloading app

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says Aussies shouldn't have any concerns over downloading the COVIDSafe app.

Public health officials, he said, have been "very, very supportive" of the app and are also "very, very keen to make sure that all of those protections that the Minister has put in place means that no Australian should have any concerns about downloading this app".

Professor Murphy said the app will be used for "only for one purpose".

"If someone becomes positive, that is all it is for and all that will be used for."


How virus app works

So, how does the COVIDSafe app work?

The Health Minister Greg Hunt is explaining now: "Very simply."

"Download the app and subsequently register from 6pm today.

You then have your app open and it provides a Bluetooth handshake and it sits on your phone in terms of the data, that is encrypted.

"No-one has access to that, not even yourself, no Commonwealth officials.

"If you are diagnosed then you already have voluntary consent for downloading the app but you are asked a second time, only a state public health official can be given access to that data, and only after you have then consented for a second time.

"Your details then of who you have been in contact with for more than 15 minutes, with less than 1.5m distance, will then be provided.

"In terms of privacy, no person can access what is on the phone, no other person can access what is on your phone.

"It is also prohibited by law. I have already signed in to law on behalf of the government a biosecurity act and determination which prevents access and ensures the data has to be kept on an Australian server.

"It cannot leave the country. It cannot be accessed by anybody other than a state public health official. It cannot be used for any purpose other than the provision of the data for the purposes of finding people with whom you have been in close contact with and it is punishable by jail if there is a breach of that.

"There is no geolocation. There is no Commonwealth access and it is stored in Australia and importantly it is deleted from your phone after 21 days."


COVIDSafe app launched

The new COVIDSafe app, which launches today, is about "assisting", Mr Hunt said.

"Finding those cases which may be undiagnosed in the community, helping people get early treatment, helping people have early diagnosis and to ensure that our doctors and nurses, our health workers, our families and friends are protected and that will save lives and protect lives," he said.

Today, Mr Hunt said, is about tracing - which is one of three "critical elements" that will lead to Australia's recovery.

"What we need to do is ensure that there is tracing and that tracing is about helping to find cases in the community."

The purpose of the app is to provide early notification if you have been in contact with somebody who may have been diagnosed as positive with coronavirus.


Privacy concerns over COVIDSAFE app

The privacy protections for the new COVIDSAFE app will include making it illegal to force anyone to hand over data from the app even if you have downloaded it and tested positive.

It's voluntary to download the app.

But if you do contract COVID-19 you will then be asked whether or not you consent to the data being shared.

It will be illegal to compel anyone to hand over that data, even if they contract coronavirus. Police and courts will be banned from being able to access data from the app.

After 21 days, the data from each day will be permanently deleted.

You will need to provide a name although that can be a pseudonym, an age range.

But it's understood that the data will be encrypted and sit on your mobile phone and not be automatically shared.

At the moment, anyone who contracts COVID is the subject of aggressive contact tracing.

The majority of cases in Australia to date have a known link with a COVID patient or someone returning from overseas.

But there are still around 500 cases where no source has not been found in Australia.

The COVIDSAFE app aims to provide more information about those cases and tracking known.


Virus tracing app to launch at 6pm

Australia's new COVIDSAFE app is now live on the Google Play store and will be available for download for iPhone and smartphone users from 6pm this afternoon.

The new tracking app will use Bluetooth technology to record any contact with another user who downloaded the app that comes within 1.5 metres or 15 minutes proximity.

But, for iPhone users, there are already concerns the app won't work if your phone is locked, or if you're running too many apps.