The federal government’s much-hyped contact tracing app has identified just 14 new close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and none outside of New South Wales, nearly six months after it was launched.
COVIDSafe, which uses bluetooth technology to log contacts between users and then send this to state or territory health authorities if a user tests positive for the coronavirus, was developed by the Digital Transformation Agency and launched in April.
Private companies have been paid nearly $5 million for work on COVIDSafe, which was launched in late April.
The app featured prominently in the federal government’s statements and policies around easing the first lockdown around the country, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison likening using COVIDSafe to applying sunscreen when going outside.
The number of downloads of COVIDSafe was also used as a key metric for when restrictions could be eased around the country.
In answers to questions on notice as part of the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19’s inquiry, the federal Department of Health confirmed that the app is yet to pick up any new close contacts outside of New South Wales, despite the significant second wave in Victoria over recent months.
In New South Wales, COVIDSafe has identified 14 contacts that hadn’t been already identified by manual contact tracers, and 53 in total.
Government ministers had earlier claimed that the app had picked up 500 new close contacts in the state as part of a cluster in Western Sydney, but the app had actually identified one contact in a pub in the area, with contact tracers then manually identifying other close contacts.
In Victoria, more than 1700 people who have contracted the virus have had COVIDSafe installed, but no new close contacts have been found. This follows revelations that Victorian contact tracers had decided to stop using the app as part of their process for a number of weeks during the onset of the second wave after not seeing any success with it.
The health department said COVIDSafe is now “fully integrated” in Victoria’s contact tracing process.
“Due to strict lockdown in Melbourne, there are limited close contacts of positive cases to be identified, but app data is being used to validate close contacts identified through manual contact tracing processes,” the department said.
In Queensland, COVIDSafe has identified one close contact, but this person had already been picked up by manual contact tracers.
No other jurisdiction has identified a close contact with COVIDSafe, even one that had already been found by contact tracers.
The federal government has paid private contractors nearly $5 million for ongoing work on COVIDSafe, with the DTA bringing in AWS, Boston Consulting Group and Shine Solutions, among others.
The government has been criticised for opting for a centralised model for COVIDSafe rather than implementing the decentralised model on offer from Google and Apple.
It has also refused to reveal information on how many active users there are for COVIDSafe, and has only publicised the number of downloads it has had.
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