RACGP backs new contact tracing app to combat COVID-19

Doug Hendrie

27/04/2020 4:43:57 PM

Millions of Australians are already using the new contact tracing app – so how does it work?

Hand holding phone with contact tracing app on it
New contact tracing app COVIDSafe is designed to help Australia reopen

The COVIDSafe app is intended to play a key role in slowly freeing Australia from lockdown by boosting contact tracing alongside an expansion of sentinel testing.
It took less than six hours after its launch for one million people to download the app, with another million users expected by the end of its second day.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon has urged all Australians to download and use the app, which has the support of the college. 
‘In the interests of combating this pandemic it’s essential that people take advantage of this app so that we can better track cases of COVID-19 and limit its spread in the community,’ he said. 
‘We are all in this together, we all have a role to play in combating this once in a lifetime pandemic.
‘Effective contact tracing is one of the most important steps in allowing us to eventually lift the restrictions currently being enforced in our communities.’
The Federal Government’s goal for the new app is to have it used by 40% of the population – a proportion large enough to make it useful.
Dr Nespolon said the strong early take-up is welcome news.
‘People in communities across Australia are doing such a great job of flattening the curve and this next step will help us trace and contain this virus,’ he said.
‘The COVIDSafe app means we are one step closer to removing the social restrictions in place and getting our communities back to normal.
‘We understand that many Australians have perfectly valid privacy concerns and it’s vital that government carefully manages how this app operates. The stakes are high and we need to get this right.’
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has said he will use the app.
‘No Australian should have any concerns about downloading this app,’ he said at the launch.
‘It is only for one purpose, to help contact tracing. If someone becomes positive, that is all it is for and all that it will be used for.’
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the app is designed to find the cases who may go undiagnosed in the community and help them get early diagnosis and treatment.
‘[It] will ensure that our doctors and nurses, our health workers, our families and friends are protected and that will save lives and protect lives,’ he said.
Contact tracing apps came to prominence in the coronavirus fight in standout nations such as South Korea and Singapore.
Those successes led the Department of Health (in conjunction with the Digital Transformation Agency) to base its app on Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which has been made available as open-source software.
Frequently asked questions
How does it work?
The app uses Bluetooth to record the anonymous ID of other app users who are closer than the 1.5 metres social distancing limit for 15 minutes – the amount of time usually needed to pass the infection.
If the user is in close contact with someone who later tests positive for the virus, they will be alerted by state or territory health officials – as will all the other contacts who are using the app.
The app is designed to automate the labour-intensive task of contact tracing, and speed up the process of finding undiagnosed cases based on transmission routes from newly infected people.
The app represents a crucial step towards easing lockdowns. If the app achieves a critical mass of users, it could allow a faster return to normal, alongside an expanded sentinel testing regime.
Is it voluntary?
Yes – but encouraged.
What do users need to do?
Have the app running as they go about their lives.
Is it secure?
The app can be used with a pseudonym. Health officials can only access the information if someone tests positive and agrees to let the information in their phone be used. The information can only be used to alert those who may need to be tested or enter quarantine.
Data is deleted on a three-week rolling cycle, to allow for the coronavirus incubation period and testing. Data is encrypted, and the unique identifier assigned to a user’s phone is stored securely so not even the user can access it.
People who may have transmitted the virus will not be identified in phone calls made to alert contacts of the possible risk.
After the pandemic, users will be asked to delete the app, which will remove all app information. All information stored on the cloud will also be destroyed after the pandemic.
The Government has said there is no geolocation, meaning user movements are not being tracked.
Access will only be for state and territory health officials, who do the existing manual contact tracing.

The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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Dr Oliver Ralph Frank   28/04/2020 9:07:12 AM

The government's repeated misuse of data that it has collected, outside what was legislated and what was promised, has been pointed out in a number of forums. It has also passed laws that can force systems and software providers to allow it to access people's data without their knowledge. It is the misuse by government of data that the app might collect that is the concern. Without the source code of the app, we don't know what data is being collected.

Dr Graeme Raymond Burger   28/04/2020 7:35:09 PM

Can anyone tell me if I as a GP can download this app which would record the name of every patient that I see who has their mobile phone on them.
What are my medico legal privacy implications here?

Dr Christopher St John Kear   11/05/2020 9:01:25 AM

It's all very well the Government telling us how this is supposed to work. but they should release the source code, as the Singapore Gov. did, and also enact specific legislation to ensure they comply with their statements about protecting users' privacy. As things stand, they could just hand data over to other agencies on a whim. They need to be held to their word, and to account if they stuff this up or apply it to misuse data from the populous. I have not downloaded this, nor will I do so until the above issues are addressed. It's not the app, it's the issues surrounding it that are the problem.