‘Right now, it’s the only safe handshake we’re allowed to have’: ANMF backs coronavirus tracing app, COVIDSafe

Australians can now download the government’s new coronavirus tracing app, COVIDSafe, after it was unveiled yesterday as the latest tool in the nation’s public health response to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

The app officially went live from 6pm last night, with users able to register by entering a name, which can be pseudonym, their age range, phone number and postcode.

The voluntary contact tracing app notifies Australians if they have come into contact with another user who tests positive for COVID-19.

It works by providing a “Bluetooth handshake” with another user when there has been contact for more than 15 minutes, with less than 1.5m distance.

The app, which aims to speed up current COVID-19 contact tracing, then stores and encrypts the information on the user’s phone.

The COVIDSafe app only keeps the data for 21 days, which covers the maximum incubation period for the virus, before deleting details if the person has not come into contact with a confirmed coronavirus case.

The new app received strong support from peak health officials at yesterday’s launch at Parliament House in Canberra, with Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy joined by Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) Federal Secretary Annie Butler, Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan, and AMA President Tony Bartone.

Many of Australia’s health bodies, including the ANMF, AMA, the Royal Australian College of GPs, the Australian College of Nursing (ACN), and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCH), also released a joint statement supporting the COVIDSafe app and encouraging Australians to sign up.

Ms Butler told the press conference the COVIDSafe app provided an additional tool to help Australia mange the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing it was not meant to be a silver bullet.

“The app is voluntary, it’s voluntary so people who do still feel concerned about it do not need to participate,” Ms Butler said.

“The app is not intended as a panacea – it’s an additional measure, along with all other measures that have been put in place and will continue to be put in place to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.”

Ms Butler thanked the majority of Australians for rallying together and obeying social distancing rules, along with other tough measures, to contain COVID-19.

“When we’re all together, and the stronger we do it together, the better it is. It is most definitely better for our nurses, midwives, doctors, and all other healthcare workers because the better you can do for us, and the better you can stay at home, do all the other things, protect us, the better we can be at work and protecting you.”

Ms Butler said it was important Australia continued to expand its coronavirus testing and that the contact tracing app would ensure the country remained safe.

“I’m a registered nurse, I’m no technical expert at all, but my understanding [is] that this operates via a Bluetooth handshake, and right now, it’s the only safe handshake we’re allowed to have.”

Australia’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Alison McMillan, said people’s privacy would be protected and urged everyone to download the app and support the fight against COVID-19.

“This is how you can do your part to help us, help defeat this and get ourselves back to our normal Australian life. So, on behalf of all health professionals, but particularly nurses and midwives, I ask you to take your part.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the COVIDSafe app was simply an additional measure that would help contain the spread of coronavirus and continue to flatten the curve in Australia, which as of yesterday had 6,711 confirmed coronavirus cases and 83 deaths.

“The COVIDSafe app is about assisting, finding those cases which might be undiagnosed in the community, helping people get earlier treatment, helping people to have earlier diagnosis, and to ensure that our doctors and nurses, our health workers, our families and our friends are protected – and that will save lives and protect lives.”

Mr Hunt was quick to alleviate the privacy concerns many Australians might have about the tracking app.

“No person can access what’s on their phone, no other person can access what’s on your phone,” he stressed.

“It is also prohibited by law – I have already signed into law, on behalf of the government, a Biosecurity Act Determination which prevents access, which ensures the data has to be kept on an Australian server.

“It cannot leave the country, it cannot be accessed by anybody other than a state public health official, it cannot be used for any purpose other than the provision of data for the purposes of finding people with whom you have been in close contact, and it is punishable by jail if there is a breach of that.”

Mr Hunt also praised nurses for their extraordinary work in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know overseas that many nurses have been on the frontline and been put at great risk. Our nurses are courageous, they’re compassionate and they are just the best of Australia, along with all of the health workers.”

The COVIDSafe app can be downloaded from the app stores. 

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