Doctors, nurses, business, and bankers have been quick to back the Morrison government’s COVID-19 tracer app, which aims to help health officials identify people who may have come into contact with someone with the disease.
Called COVIDSafe, the voluntary app will be available for download and registration from 6 pm (AEST) on April 26.
“It assists in the early alert and finding of people who may have been in contact with a person who is positive with a diagnosis,” federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters as he announced the launch of the app in Canberra on Sunday.
The app is based on Singapore’s Tracetogether software, which records the Bluetooth connections a phone makes with others so the user can give that data to state health authorities if they catch the virus.
The government hopes a broader testing regime and the contact tracing app will lead to a relaxation of the economic shutdown sooner.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told ABC radio program, Macca, Australia All Over, that only health authorities would have access to the data.
“It’s another tool we need to get back to normal as much as we can,” he said.
He said the contact numbers picked up by a person’s phone are only downloaded by a health officer when someone gets the coronavirus and gives permission.
“No other government agency can use this information, no one in the commonwealth government at all, and in state authorities, only the health officer can use it,” he said.
“Not the police, not the welfare people, nowhere else. Just the health officer.”
Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen said the app had been activated under the Biosecurity Act as an interim measure but expects it will be legislated when parliament sits in mid-May and that will be important to assure Australians of their privacy.
“I’d be happy to download the app,” Bowen told reporters in Sydney.
“The only people I’ve seen say that they won’t download the app are Liberal and National MPs.”
Australian Medical Association President Tony Bartone told reporters the app was an important part of Australia’s response to the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 COVIDSafe app will assist in the contact tracing process, that laborious slow process which, together with the marvelous community response, has been implicitly responsible for reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the community and flattening the curve,” Dr. Bartone said.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott urged all Australians to download the app.
“The more Australians who download the app the safer we will all be and the more quickly we can begin to ease restrictions,” she said in a statement.
Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh said Australia’s bank chiefs were right behind efforts to open up the economy in the coming weeks.
The Australian and International Pilots Association has also backed its use, but with effective privacy safeguards in place.
AIPA President Mark Sedgwick said the aviation industry was in crisis and it was vital that the public recognized that Australia needed to reopen as quickly as possible.
Australian Nobel laureate and immunologist Peter Doherty said he would be signing up for it.
“Anything that helps us wrestle COVID-19 to the ground is a plus. Any privacy any of us had pretty much disappeared when we started using mobile phones, searching online, buying stuff from Amazon, or whatever,” he tweeted on Sunday.
New research from the Australia Institute shows that 45 percent of Australians say they will download and use the mobile app, while 28 percent say they won’t. A further 27 percent were unsure.
By Colin Brinsden