Experts Call for Mandatory Use of Victoria’s QR App to Streamline Contact Tracing

March 16, 2021 Updated: March 16, 2021

The Victorian state government is being urged to make its centralised QR tracing app mandatory as pressure mounts for the state to improve its contact tracing system.

The call follows criticism from the Victorian Health Department, who blamed businesses for providing incorrect or incomplete QR code information used for contact tracing during the Holiday Inn Cluster outbreak that resulted in the state’s snap 5-day lockdown.

Currently, Victorian businesses can use either private record-keeping systems or the Service Victoria QR app. In contrast, other states such as NSW and the ACT have made it compulsory for businesses to use its centralised government app.

“It is much more convenient for people to use one app, and it’s likely this would make data management for the [Victorian] government much easier,” Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“If we had an outbreak, it would make things easier with the contact tracing.”

Information stored by some businesses that used private record-keeping systems was not made immediately available after business hours—causing a delay in contact tracing—according to Peter Strong, chief executive for the Council of Small Business Australia.

Strong added that after having experienced the NSW and ACT’s centralised contact tracing system, he was “shocked” that the Victorian government did not do the same.

“The government’s system is a lot better, a lot safer. I was quite stunned, to be honest,” Strong said.

Anthony Macali, a data analyst and founder of the Covidlive website, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the difficulty in Victoria was that everyone was using a different app.

“There’s definitely an issue with compliance in Victoria,” Macali said.

“Considering what we have gone through, we should be the most compliant and the strictest when it comes to this.”

Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett told Geelong Advertiser that Victoria had not made the app mandatory because the state was slow in rolling it out.

She added that there were issues with the state’s current tracing system.

“Every hour helps contact tracers.”

“There is no doubt, if we have to resort to additional methods, like credit card access or even working through paper-based records, it will slow things down,” Bennett said.

“We know they are getting interviews underway within a couple of hours of notification, so it’s important they hear about potentially exposed people as soon as possible.”

Bennett added that there are many “working options” in development, such as apps to swipe cards that will make the process easier.

Peter Strong, chief executive for the Council of Small Business Australia, said businesses who are forced to migrate to a new tracing system should be “compensated.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said private record-keeping systems used by businesses did not connect easily to the state’s system.

“To ensure they are not losing money on this investment, the government has developed the Victorian Government Visitation API—a piece of software that enables private QR codes to communicate directly with contact tracers,” she said.

“From 27 March, all businesses using electronic record-keeping—such as a QR code system—must use a system that seamlessly integrates with the Victorian Government contact tracing system to help contact tracers respond to outbreaks even faster.”

The Victorian Government’s free QR code system is currently used by approximately 34,000 businesses.