06 Aug Victorian officials stopped using COVIDsafe app as second wave grew
David Crowe – The Sydney Morning Herald – Wednesday 05 August 2020
Victorian officials stopped using the federal government’s COVIDSafe app for several weeks during a time of huge pressure on authorities to trace people infected with the coronavirus.
Federal and state officials confirmed the pause, but said the state teams had since resumed using the mobile app, just as the NSW government says the technology helped identify two cases in western Sydney.
Experts have criticised the app for not being useful enough in finding potential infections even though Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to download it and backed it with an advertising campaign.
NSW Health said on Sunday it had found two coronavirus cases in recent days through the COVIDSafe app, which had been used by a person visiting the Mounties club in Sydney.
This led in turn to another 544 additional people who had been exposed to the coronavirus.
The secretary of the federal Department of Health, Brendan Murphy, told a Senate inquiry on Wednesday that Victorian officials had stopped using the app for a time.
“I think in Victoria, for a period of time, they were feeling so pressured that they decided not to use the app,” Professor Murphy said.
“They tried it initially in the outbreak. The community that were involved had a low download rate, and most of the early transmissions were in family gatherings where they identified the contacts anyway. So, because they were so pressured, they kept going without using the app.”
“They have now started using the app again and we hope to see some of the successes we’ve seen in NSW recently with identifying otherwise unidentified contacts.”
In response to questions from Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson, Professor Murphy said the pause had come when Victorian contact tracing teams were under pressure.
“It’s getting a lot better now but I think they were significantly under pressure. When you have more than 500 cases a day, they did have a period of time when their contact tracing was delayed,” Professor Murphy said.
This went on for a couple of weeks, Professor Murphy said, and this was a factor in the community spread of COVID-19 in the state.
Asked about the use of the app, Victorian deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng said the state authorities were now using the app.
“We wouldn’t really expect to find contacts through the app because at the moment we’re either at work or at home and the contacts are known to us,” he said.
“So I understand that where it has been used it has generally picked up people who have already been detected by the contact tracers.”
Federal Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said the app had been downloaded 6.8 million times and it had proven its use as an “extra layer of protection” in containing the virus.