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Australia launches COVIDSafe contact tracing app

Australia recently launched a contact-tracing mobile app on 26 April 2020 to boost its efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

COVIDSafe will record the digital handshake a mobile phone makes with other users of the app, according to a government statement. If someone catches the virus, they can then share that contact data with health authorities to speed up tracing.

The nation’s Prime Minister, in a press statement, noted that the country needs the COVIDSafe app as part of the plan to save lives and save livelihoods.

The more people who download this important public health app, the safer they and their family will be, the safer their community will be and the sooner we can safely lift restrictions and get back to business and do the things we love, he said.

A broader testing regime and the contact-tracing app are seen as necessary for Australia to consider relaxing restrictions on the economy. The government has stressed the data will only be used by health officials and won’t be accessible by police or other federal or state agencies.

Information is secure

The app records the date and time, distance and duration of any contact. All information collected is securely encrypted and stored on the user’s phone but no one, not even the user, can access it, Minister for Government Services said in the statement.

Unless and until a person is diagnosed with Covid-19, no contact information collected in the app is disclosed or able to be accessed, he reassured citizens.

Once the person agrees and uploads the data, only the relevant state or territory public health officials will have access to information.

Officials will only be able to access information for close contact –- when a person has come within approximately 1.5 meters of another app user for 15 minutes or more.

A new determination issued by the Minister for Health under the Biosecurity Act will ensure the information provided voluntarily through COVIDSafe will only be accessible for use by authorized state and territory health officials, according to the statement. Any other access or use will be a criminal offence.

An Australian Institute survey of about 1,000 people conducted last week showed 45% of respondents were willing to use the app while 28% said they wouldn’t.

OpenGov Asia earlier reported that To detect possible outbreaks of COVID-19 even before any testing, some of Australia’s leading astrophysicists have partnered with public health experts on a mobile app.

Swinburne has partnered with Arq group to launch an online tool to help track the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Australia.

Swinburne University astrophysics professor, Professor Bailes is working with Swinburne public health professor, Richard Osborne, who previously worked with the World Health Organisation and the Australian Bureau of Statistics on disease-tracking surveys.

The team use supercomputers to analyse captured data in a bid to highlight geographical clusters of symptoms and detect where COVID-19 could be spreading. These supercomputers normally process data from the world’s largest telescopes.

Matthew Bailes, who has put that research on hold, is dedicating his time, and supercomputers, to the project.

Using early data from a small number of subscribers, the team claimed that the program indicated outbreaks in certain Melbourne suburbs – which matched official government data.

Although the analysis was conducted retrospectively, the researchers believe the results demonstrate that the program should be effective in predicting outbreaks.

These promising early results have prompted the team to launch the ‘BeatCOVID19Now’ app to crowdsource anonymous data from users around the world.

Nancy Baxter, head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, said the app would be a useful tool if the Swinburne researchers could get enough people to use it.

Currently, 12,000 people across the world are using a trial version of the app. They log in daily and answer questions about symptoms and risk factors not currently recorded by health authorities.

At the moment users have primarily discovered the website through social media platforms. However, marketing and IT experts have volunteered to help promote the phone app.

The team are optimistic that millions of people globally will use the mobile phone app to report symptoms and risk factors. The responses would be used to try to pre-empt major outbreaks so authorities could intervene early.

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