NSW to launch its own contact trace app

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

New South Wales will soon have its own contact tracing app with the state government trialling a new function on its digital licence to enable venue-based tracing that will work separately from the federal government’s controversial COVIDSafe app..

The federal government launched the national contact tracing app in April, which uses Bluetooth technology to record close contacts between users, which are then passed on to state health authorities if a user later tests positive for COVID-19.

The app has encountered troubles on iPhones but has recently identified a number of new close contacts in NSW, although it is yet to find one in Victoria despite the significant recent surge in cases in the state.

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Contact tracing: NSW is launching its own venue-based system

The NSW government is now trialling a new version of its own app which would lets users scan a QR code to check-in at a hospitality venue, replacing the existing pen and paper approach. This data is then stored on the Service NSW database for 28 day for “the sole purpose of COVID tracing in the event of an outbreak”.

New South Wales has been managing several small clusters and outbreaks in the wake of the second wave in Victoria, with several traced back to hospitality venues.

The retooling of the Service NSW app will make it easier for venues to record the contact details of patrons and make the process quicker and more centralised for health authorities. It would work separately to COVIDSafe, which aims to record close contacts between users, whether in venues or outside of them.

The new service, which will see added functionality on the Service NSW app which currently handles digital drivers licences, will be trialled in Dubbo and across the venues owned by Merivale, before it is rolled out across the state.

Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello said that digital record keeping during COVID is a “no brainer”.

“It’s safer, saves time and helps officials for contact tracing purposes. We want to help businesses and customers to make the check-in experience as seamless and consistent as possible,” Mr Dominello said.

“The purpose of the trial in Dubbo is to test and refine the technology in a live environment to ensure it delivers the best experience for customers and businesses while also aiding the vital work of our NSW Health contact tracing team.”

There are currently 1.7 million NSW residents using the app on their smartphone. The NSW government has not yet set a date for when the contact tracing service will be available on its app for the rest of the state.

Before the recent lockdown, a number of venues in Melbourne were using QR codes to record the contact details of visitors, but there was no coordinated approach led by the state government.

It was revealed last week that Victorian health authorities stopped using the COVIDSafe tracing app entirely during the recent outbreak as they were pressed for time and did not see any benefit in using it. It has been confirmed that the app is now in use again by the health department.

The federal Opposition has said that COVIDSafe has “failed” Victorians and urged the government to admit it is not working as intended and to make efforts to fix it.

COVIDSafe has proven to be more successful in NSW, with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr recently saying the app had helped trace 544 people in Western Sydney, leading to two positive cases of COVID-19 being discovered.

The app is still yet to unearth a new contact in Victoria and is unlikely to do so until the current restrictions begin to be lifted.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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