Wed, 06 May 2020 - 12:12
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The COVIDSafe App

The Government has developed its contact tracing app, ‘COVIDSafe’, which is being used to stop the spread of COVID-19. It compliments other government initiatives in its overall response to the coronavirus. The app quickly identifies people who may be at risk of having had contact with the virus. It also allows health authorities to reach individuals and close contacts in the event that you or a contact contracts the virus, to aid in managing the spread. Health authorities already conduct manual contact tracing. This app will support these authorities in continuing to monitor the outbreak of COVID-19.

How will the app work?

The app operates on a person’s phone, and operates simultaneously with other software. It works by securely logging the devices of other people who are using the app, who have been in close contact with you. This information may only be accessed by relevant health authorities if there has been a positive case to help identify those who may need to be tested. The app maintains the privacy of every individual Australian, while helping Australians protect themselves, their loved ones and other members of the community.

Once installed, the app looks for other devices that have the app installed. It logs points of contact with other devices, recognising each by their unique secure hash identifier. Date, time, distance and duration of the contact are generated on the user’s phone and also recorded. Location is not recorded, however. This data is encrypted and stored on the user’s phone.

The app uses a rolling 21-day window to allow for the maximum 14-day incubation period, and the time taken to confirm a positive test result. This rolling 21-day window allows the app to continuously monitor only those user contacts that occur during the coronavirus incubation window. Contacts that have occurred outside of the 21-day window are automatically deleted from the users’ phone.

Contact data is uploaded to a restricted data storage system that logs when a person is diagnosed with coronavirus. The user and close contacts that are logged by the app are contacted by State or Territory health officials using the data in this data storage system, and provided with advice on actions that they should be taking to manage their health status. Phone calls will be made to users who have come into close contact with confirmed cases of coronavirus.

What is a “close contact” and how will the app know if a “close contact” has occurred?

A close contact is someone (another user of the app) who has been within approximately 1.5 metres of an infected user for a period of 15 minutes or more. This is based on advice by the Department of Health.

When two (or more) users of the app come in close proximity with each other, their phones exchange Bluetooth signals and make a series of ‘digital handshakes’.

For contact tracing to be most effective, the user should have the app running whenever they go about their daily business. Users of the app will receive daily notifications to ensure the app is running.

How can the data collected by the contact tracing app be used?

Only authorised State and Territory health officials may access the data collected from the contact tracing app, once it has been uploaded to the restricted data storage system. The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) will be the administrator of the system, and will manage access to the data, in partnership with the Federal Department of Health and State and Territory health authorities.

Why should I use the contact tracing app?

The app is a powerful tool in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. Use of the app is voluntary, but will help in the fight to contain the virus. Without the assistance of technology, manual contact tracing relies on people’s ability to recall every individual interaction that they have had. The contact tracing app uses technology to track this information, ensuring that tracing is faster and more accurate. Those who may have come into contact with the virus may receive early notification through the app, meaning that testing and self-isolation may be conducted soon after.

When the coronavirus pandemic is over, users’ will be prompted to delete the app from their phone. This will delete all digital handshakes and contact data from your phone.

How can I get the app?

Users will be able to voluntarily download the COVIDSafe app from their native app store and install it on their device. Users will then need to register their use by entering their name, age, phone number and postcode. An SMS text message will then be sent to the user to confirm their registration and to complete the installation process. On the basis of this information, a secure hash identifier is generated, unique to the user’s individual device.

For further information on the COVIDSafe app, visit www.health.gov.au/resources/apps-and-tools/covidsafe-app.