COVIDSafe app revamped to better identify close contacts

The Morrison government’s COVIDSafe app has been overhauled to improve its performance so that it can better identify potential close contacts.

The revamp centres on the app now incorporating a new Bluetooth protocol called Herald that offers ‘unparalleled’ performance and contributes to the identification of potential close contacts, enhancing contact tracing ability.

The update arrives as the federal government rolls out a new Christmas advertising campaign to remind Australians to maintain COVID-safe behaviours as restrictions ease.

Launched in April, the COVIDSafe app was pitched as an important tool in the nation’s early public health response to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

Users were encouraged to register by entering a name, which could be a pseudonym, their age range, phone number and postcode. The contact tracing app was supposed to notify Australians when they had come into contact with another user who tests positive for COVID-19. But the app, downloaded by more than seven million Australians, has been widely criticised for its glitches and lack of effectiveness.

The federal government says the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has been working with Apple and Google to incorporate the new protocol in the COVIDSafe app and has performed extensive testing for both Android and iOS devices, ensuring it provides excellent performance under all conditions.

The DTA has also been working with the Australian Cyber Security Centre to make sure the security of the new code meets the same stringent requirements as previous versions of the COVIDSafe app, which stored and encrypted information on the user’s phone.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was not the time to become complacent regarding protection against COVID-19 infection.

“The Government is reinforcing the message not to be complacent in regards to the risks of spreading COVID-19 and how to stay safe, including having the app on your phone,” Minister Hunt said.

When used as part of contact tracing efforts, the government says the COVIDSafe app has helped identify close contacts not picked up through manual tracing. For example, it says New South Wales successfully used the COVIDSafe app to identify 80 close contacts, including 17 contacts that weren’t identified by manual contact tracing.

Government Service Minister Stuart Robert said the code for the update was being made available now to the public via Github to allow the tech community an opportunity to provide feedback ahead of its official release to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

“Australia’s technology capability and contact tracing systems are world-leading and we will be the first country in the world to adopt the Herald Bluetooth protocol, which has been shown to significantly improve our capability through the COVIDSafe app,” Minister Robert said.

“We are encouraging everyone interested to review the code, conduct their own testing and provide their feedback.”

Information on the update to the COVIDSafe app is available on the DTA website here

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