1 Sep 2020

Bureaucracy hampering CovidCard development - innovator Ian Taylor

From Checkpoint, 5:11 pm on 1 September 2020

A Rotorua trial of the CovidCard will still go ahead, despite one of its original backers - businessman Sam Morgan and his team - pulling out, Digital Services Minister Kris Faafoi says.

The card, which would use bluetooth technology to enable more efficient mass contact tracing, is due to be trialled at the end of the month.

Businessman and Trade Me founder Sam Morgan said he and his team, including IT experts and epidemiologists, have provided most of the expertise that has gone into creating it, but they are pulling out.

Morgan said they are the only people working on the card so without them there is no trial.

Innovator Ian Taylor has been in talks with Morgan since the CovidCard's inception.

Taylor believes the card could avert future lockdowns, but its development is being hampered by government ministers out of their depth, and he has some frank words for Faafoi.

Taylor says he understands Morgan's frustration but he is urging him not to walk away.

"I'd dearly like to try and talk him out of it. The efforts that he has put in and the solution he's come up with is one I think is just way too important to let fall off the radar.

"The first time I even heard about [CovidCard] was way back in April, when Sam sent me an email. He said, 'look, you guys know about apps. Do you agree that an app isn't the solution for this?' And we did.

"He said to me, 'we will go through this lockdown, we will flatten this curve, we will come out, but we will go back again, unless we have the tools to deal with it ... We have to find a tool that everybody can use, nobody has to have any expertise to use it, and it is free to everyone'. And that resonated with me immediately. Basically he was describing the CovidCard.

"I understand Sam's frustration. I've been a witness on the edge of it, just the way the thing has gone around in circles. This was a decision that needed to be made really early.

"That was April, so you know, five months, whatever it is, Minister Faafoi said the other day, 'it's a number of things we're looking at. I don't imagine I'll put anything in front of Cabinet before the end of the year'.

"Well, you know my image immediately was Nero fiddling while Rome burned, and my message Faafoi is we are on fire. And we need to stop fiddling."

Taylor told Checkpoint health authorities need to able to act and respond fast.

"I think some great things have been done and the Covid close contact tracing team are doing a remarkable job but we aren't giving them the very best tools to use.

"If I was being frank, governments and government departments are not equipped to deal with an emergency as big as this that needs response as fast as it does.

"I have no idea why people are treating Sam the way they did and why Minister Faafoi seemed to dismiss Sam today as being sort of petulant.

"Minister Faafoi and those ministers, if they can't respond fast and quickly enough they need to step aside."

Faafoi said as the government is spending $100 million on the project, it needs to be tried and tested, and he will not rush it through.

Taylor said that does not mean much when Auckland was losing $76m a day under the recent level 3 lockdown.

"If everybody was wearing a CovidCard three or four weeks ago, how fast would we have found all of the contacts, not just the contacts the person could remember, but the contacts they couldn't remember."

At the beginning of the recent outbreak in Auckland, the prime minister could only say that four people had tested positive for Covid-19, Taylor said.

"If everyone had been using the CovidCard, they may well have even tracked the source of it. They certainly would have tracked all three weeks of everybody who had the CovidCard."

Taylor said the $100 million would pay for all the CovidCards and ensure that every New Zealander had one.

"I think the problem is that bureaucracies are overwhelmed, they are not designed to move at the speed that this virus is moving."