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New Advanced Features for New Zealand’s COVID-19 Tracer App

The NZ COVID Tracer is a Ministry of Health app in New Zealand. Aside from scanning QR codes at places New Zealanders visit, the app allows them to use a “digital diary,” which allows them to add specific locations in case they forgot to check in.

From Monday, a new tap and go feature on the NZ Covid tracer app will be developed and tested at Victoria University of Wellington and several small businesses. The trial, which is being run by the Ministry of Health, will see the app use Near Field Communications (NFC) tags in addition to QR codes.

The primary distinction between NFC and QR Code is that NFC technology exchanges data using mobile end devices such as cell phones, tablets, and notebook computers. As a result, several new consumer-facing apps, such as intelligent posters, payment systems, and interactive marketing events, are now possible.

This trial, aimed at making it easy for New Zealanders to keep track of where they’ve been, fits with our university’s commitment to innovation and new knowledge that can help solve key issues that face us.

– Victoria University’s Director of Safety, Risk and Assurance

Individuals with a compatible phone and the latest version of the NZ Covid Tracer app will be able to record a diary entry by holding their phone against a small NFC tag. They will only need to unlock their phone and hold it near the tag, which will be placed near existing QR code posters, and the app will automatically open and add the diary entry.

The tap-and-go tags will be distributed throughout the university’s Kelburn, Pipitea and Te Aro campuses, as well as two cafes on Molesworth Street – Mojo Summit and Hauora – and a Wellington Fitness Centre, HealthFit Collective. According to an Auckland University researcher at Koi T, Centre for Informed Futures, the addition of NFC technology will not significantly alter how the app is used.

It will facilitate access for some people, but some phones do not have NFC capabilities, and scanning the QR code may still be faster for those with smartphones older than 4 years old. Since NFC is the same technology that is used in mobile app stores, users of those functions will be able to use the tracer app in the same way.

If the trial was a success, he said, there would need to be an infrastructure roll-out – probably one tag per business, more for larger stores like supermarkets. Deputy Director-General of Digital Data stated that the trial would last up to four weeks and would help inform decisions about a potential wider roll-out.

Adding a diary entry via NFC tag would provide the same privacy safeguards as scanning and Bluetooth, with all data stored on the user’s phone until they choose to share it. Only if they tested positive for Covid-19 were people asked to share their digital diaries. There are now over 3 million app users, and over 2 million have enabled Bluetooth tracing. According to Victoria University’s director of safety, risk, and assurance, staff and students are early adopters of new technologies.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand, residents are encouraged to use the NZ COVID Tracer app to:

  • Scan QR codes to create a private digital diary of the places visited
  • Use Bluetooth tracing to keep an anonymised record of the people they have been near
  • Add more details after scanning the QR code in the text box, such as who they are with or the activities that have been done
  • Save locations they go to frequently

OpenGov Asia reported that another solution for monitoring and mitigating the virus is by making the COVID-19 tracer app compulsory for the public to scan QR codes on their mobile phones when entering businesses and public places. Per an article, the government would need to negotiate rules with technology companies to prevent the mandatory use of apps that use Bluetooth tracing.

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