More than one million Australians have downloaded a new government smartphone app designed to make coronavirus contact tracing easier despite concerns about how authorities might use their data.
Health minister Greg Hunt hailed take-up since the app was released Sunday evening as “extraordinary”, adding that 1.1 million people had downloaded the program by Monday morning.The nation of 25 million people has uncovered just over 6,700 instances of COVID-19, with the rate of new cases falling to 10-20 per day despite widespread testing.
Experts have heralded the “COVIDSafe” app as a way of improving authorities’ ability to track new outbreaks of the disease.
The app works by using smartphones’ Bluetooth function to detect other users nearby.
If a user tests positive, anyone who has been in close proximity can then be notified, making rapid tracking of the disease much easier.
The system is seen as a key stepping stone to removing social distancing restrictions that have shuttered bars, restaurants, offices and most classrooms for the last month.
Hunt and others were at pains to stress the app is not a location tracker and that only state health authorities will use the data.There has been widespread concern about what Australia’s conservative government — which has a record of pushing the boundaries of civil rights protections — would do with the data.
“This is simply about helping us find and alert anybody who may have been exposed to the virus,” Hunt told Sky News.
“It means that they can be diagnosed and protected earlier, and it can protect our nurses and our doctors, our seniors and our vulnerable Australians.”
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has said a “good take-up” would be just over 50 percent of the population.
The early figure is around four percent and rising.
The app’s release comes as some Australian states with zero new coronavirus cases tentatively announced an easing of stay-at-home restrictions.
In Queensland, family picnics and weekend drives within a short distance of home will soon be permitted. Some national parks may be reopened.
In the country’s most populous state of New South Wales, most restrictions are set to remain in place, although Sydney’s famed Bondi Beach will reopen Tuesday for surfing and swimming only.