Australian PM calls for greater contact-tracing to help curb Covid-19 spread

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on April 19th 2020, 12:12am

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said this week that a “more extensive surveillance regime” must be introduced if the country is to chart a course out of its Covid-19 lockdown.

As of 15:00 AEST on April 17, there were 6,523 confirmed cases in Australia, an increase of only 55 cases compared to the previous day. 3,819 were reported to have recovered, while 65 had died.

Australia's measures have included a closure of the borders and instructing all but essential businesses to shut their doors, while Australians have been encouraged to stay at home. Schools, public transport, shops and outdoor spaces have remained open.

Morrison paid tribute to the existing testing system in Australia, which has helped flatten the curve of cases by making testing available to any citizens suffering from Covid-19 symptoms, but urged the country not to become complacent despite its progress.

He said: “We need to do even better…so when we move to a lesser restricted environment, we can identify outbreaks very quickly and respond to them.”

The contact-tracing solution that the Australian government proposed this week involves using a mobile application to track the movements of Covid-19 patients, a tactic that has already been used to good effect in Singapore and South Korea.

The application, currently being vetted by the Australian Signals Directorate, would use Bluetooth to record anybody that an individual may get close to who also has the app. The two applications then exchange anonymous IDs, which are stored on phones, entirely encrypted, and then deleted after a period of 21 days.

If somebody becomes infected with Covid-19, authorities are able to upload the list of anonymous IDs from the previous 14 days to trace individuals who have been in contact with them.

However, use of the technology has raised concerns over privacy, and a minimum of 40 per cent of Australians would need to download the app onto their mobile devices to render it effective.

Morrison informed the Australian media that consent will be key in the government's plan and that use of the application will not be mandatory.

He said: “We need the support of Australians. If we can get that in place, get the tracing capability up from where it is, that will give us more options and Australians more freedom."

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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
April 19th 2020, 12:12am

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