By SAT News Desk
MELBOURNE, 26 April 2020: The Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt today launched the new voluntary coronavirus app, COVIDSafe.
The latest research from the Australia Institute (26 April posted) shows that 45% of Australians say they will download and use the Government’s COVID-19 mobile app, while 28% say they will not use it and 27% unsure.
The Australia Institute surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,011 Australians about whether they would use the government’s COVID-19 mobile app on 23-24 April 2020.
“The app is an important public health initiative that will help keep you, your family, and your community safe from further spread of coronavirus through early notification of possible exposure,” a media release says.
“Australians are doing an extraordinary job to flatten the curve and contain the spread of the coronavirus, but we cannot be complacent,” says Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“The Chief Medical Officer’s advice is we need the COVIDSafe app as part of the plan to save lives and save livelihoods. The more people who download this important public health app, the safer they and their family will be, the safer their community will be, and the sooner we can safely lift restrictions and get back to business and do the things we love.”
The health initiative uses technology to automate and improve what state and territory health officials already do manually. COVIDSafe will speed up the process of identifying people who have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus, quickly stopping further spread of the virus in the community.
Addressing a nationally televised media conference, Minister for Health, Greg Hunt thanked Australians for their actions during the pandemic, and said the app is part of the three key requirements for easing restrictions: Test, Trace, and Respond.
“We thank Australians for their help in adhering to the difficult but life-saving social distancing measures,” Minister Hunt said.
“We are now calling on all Australians to download the COVIDSafe app to help protect you, your family and your community from further spread of COVID-19. This will be necessary if we are to start easing some of the difficult social distancing restrictions we have had to put in place” Minister Hunt said.
“It will be one of the critical tools we will use to help protect the health of the community by quickly alerting people who may be at risk of having contact with COVID-19. If you’d been exposed, you’d want to know, wouldn’t you?”
The media release says, “The app has received strong support from states and territories and the health sector, which recognizes it is a valuable tool that will enhance the ability to respond rapidly to local outbreaks, and the confidence to know the virus is not silently spreading throughout communities.
A new determination issued by the Minister for Health under the Biosecurity Act will ensure the information provided voluntarily through the App will only be accessible for use by authorized state and territory health officials. Any other access or use will be a criminal offense.”
Welcoming the announcement, Australian Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy said COVIDSafe is set to be a major tool in streamlining the process of identifying contacts after a person tests positive for coronavirus.
“Finding out quickly means you can quarantine yourself or be treated much faster, protecting your family and friends from possible infection, and slowing the spread of the virus,” Professor Murphy said.
“Without this technology, health officials have to rely on people being able to remember who they have been around, and being able to provide contact details for those people.”
“It is important to note that only state and territory health officials will be able to use the information.”
“COVIDSafe only keeps contact information for 21 days. This covers the maximum incubation period for the virus and the time it takes for someone to be tested for COVID-19,” Professor Murphy said.
“Once the coronavirus pandemic is over, and Australia no longer needs the app, the app and the information on it will be deleted permanently. No virus, no app,” Minister Hunt said.
“While there is a base level of support for the proposed Government COVID-19 mobile app, the Government will need to ensure user privacy is guaranteed in legislation,” said Ben Oquist, Executive Director of the Australia Institute.
“With half the population yet to be fully convinced, the Government will need to ensure strong privacy guarantees are legislated to keep the community on the side and assuage any privacy concerns.”
Law Council of Australia President, Ms. Pauline Wright says, ” … a potential legal ambiguity exists around whether other laws authorizing the issuing of law enforcement and intelligence warrants could override the prohibition on access, as provided under the Determination, without an express provision included in the Determination stating that it prevails over all other laws.
Clarity should also extend to the operation of the exemptions under the Privacy Act 1988, for example, employee records covering an ‘act or practice directly related to a current or former employment relationship between the employer and the individual.
We call on the government to make a firm commitment to introduce legislation on the first sitting day in May that will replace the Determination.”
The App can be downloaded from the App stores.