COVIDSafe uploaded 1.65m ‘handshakes’ and were only used by NSW and Victoria

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The Australian government has finally released its report in the COVIDSafe contact tracing app which has been touted by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as digital sunscreen and the key to getting back to somewhat normal life.

According to report [PDF], over 7.6 million Australians registered for COVIDSafe. As of December 31, 2020, ABS has the Australian population at just under 25.7 million people.

For the period April 26, 2020 to May 15, 2021, 779 COVIDSafe users, who have tested positive for COVID-19, have consented to their data being uploaded to the National COVIDSafe Data Store (NCDS).

This saw over 1.65 million digital handshakes uploaded to NCDS and the identification of 2,827 potential close contacts from 37,668 encounters.

It should be noted, however, that an encounter is defined as an interaction that includes handshakes that meet the agreed parameters for access by contact tracers – within 1.5 meters for 15 minutes or more.

Distributed, for the period from April 26 to November 15, 2020, 735 COVIDSafe users, who tested positive for COVID-19, consented to their data being downloaded, compared to only 44 for the period from November 16, 2020 to May 15, 2021.

Over 1.45 million digital handshakes were uploaded to NCDS in the first six months and only 202,110 in the second.

2,579 potential close contacts were identified from over 35,939 meetings from April 26 to November 15, 2020, and 248 potential close contacts were identified from over 1,729 meetings over the following six months.

New South Wales and Victoria were the only states that used the app’s information.

NSW accessed COVIDSafe data to identify 81 close contacts, which the report said included 17 contacts who were not identified through manual contact tracing.

“In one case, access to COVIDSafe data revealed a previously unrecognized exposure date from a known location, Mounties,” the report notes. “This resulted in the identification of 544 additional contacts.”

Two people in this group showed up for testing and were subsequently confirmed to have COVID-19.

“NSW said that in their experience the app is a useful additional tool for identifying contacts in certain circumstances,” the report said.

Meanwhile, in Victoria, the state has integrated the use of apps into its contact tracing processes. He reported that over 1,800 cases reported using the app.

Queensland and South Australia had a very low number of community transmissions and did not identify additional contacts, while other states and territories did not need to use the app due to the low number of cases.

“Integrating COVIDSafe into their current contact tracing processes has been a major challenge for state and territory health officials, and this has been the subject of regular discussions with health officials from State and Territory, which contributed to the COVIDSafe improvement program, the report later said.

The app was launched, with startup issues, on April 26, 2020.

After many flaws were highlighted in the operation and design of the app, the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) saw fit to update its Bluetooth capability through the use of the Herald protocol.

Some of these flaws included research that showed locked iPhones were virtually useless when it came to recording dating through COVIDSafe.

“At the onset of the pandemic, the Australian government saw the opportunity to use digital technology to help with contact tracing efforts,” the report said.

“The challenges during the development of COVIDSafe involved producing a new digital contact tracing tool, for a novel virus, and in the context of evolving epidemiological and technological evidence.

“To do so in a matter of weeks, and under intense public scrutiny to protect both public health priorities and individual privacy rights, was a laudable achievement.”

In his foreword, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he encouraged all Australians to download, update and keep the COVIDSafe app active on their devices.

The total cost to build and operate the app in May 2021 was AU $ 7,753,863.38 including GST. At the end of January, that figure was AU $ 6,745,322.31, which the DTA said included around AU $ 5,844,182.51 for app development and AU $ 901,139.80. for accommodation.

As of 9:00 p.m. AEST on July 28, 2021, there were approximately 2,600 active cases of COVID-19 in Australia, with a total of 33,473 cases. New South Wales remains subject to strict lockdown orders until at least August 28, 2021.

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