7 Sep 2021

Govt, police unable to enforce mandatory scanning of QR codes

6:51 am on 7 September 2021

People are flouting contact tracing systems by signing with fake names and numbers, and new rules coming into effect at midnight are powerless to stop the practice.

A person using the Covid Tracer app

The Covid-19 Tracer app in use. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The government touted the introduction of mandatory record keeping for most events and businesses, which will take effect from 11.59pm when much of the country drops to a lower alert level.

But scanning or signing in will not be mandatory, with the government saying it is only mandatory for businesses and events to have record keeping available when people visit.

"If someone refuses to scan in, there is no expectation or requirement that businesses or locations should force a customer or visitor to scan in or provide their details for contact tracing purposes," a spokesperson for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said.

"Businesses and locations are also not required or expected to turn people away who may refuse to make a record of their visit."

Businesses will not be punished if people do not sign in.

"The person in charge of a business, location or event, must legally make sure they have safe and secure systems and processes in place so that everyone working on or visiting their premises can scan in or provide their details in an electronic or paper-based manual process, no matter how long they are there for.

"This includes workers, contractors, customers, and volunteers.

"The person in charge must legally have more than one way for people to record their visit, especially for people who are not able to scan QR codes."

The changes cover a huge range of businesses and services such as cafes, restaurants, barbers, resthomes, courts and libraries.

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders have been congregating online, sharing misinformation and conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and the resulting issues the pandemic has caused.

Vaccines and mask use are common topics, but mandatory contact tracing is now in their sight lines.

In closed forums RNZ has gained access to, people have discussed how to avoid scanning in, and say they have been using fake names and phone numbers.

They said that would continue if scanning was made mandatory.

"If individuals choose to provide false contact information, they are directly jeopardising the ability for contact tracing to occur quickly and accurately. This could put their health and the health of others at risk," the DPMC spokesperson said.

"We ask that everyone do their bit to support shops, services, cafes, restaurants and venues - and the staff working at these places.

"Contact tracing is one of the strongest tools we have to stop the spread of Covid-19, minimise lockdowns and keep friends and whānau safe."

Police have a number of tools to monitor groups on social media, like the ones RNZ has gained access to.

They would not reveal what kind of monitoring is happening over Covid-19 issues.

A police spokesperson did say providing false information to a medical officer of health could be an offence which may lead to a prosecution, but writing false details in a contact tracing book does not reach that level.

"Entering accurate personal information in a contact tracing book is, in practical terms, based on good faith and voluntary cooperation," they said.

"To provide false details in a contact record book is to place the person giving those details, and to friends and whānau, at risk of being unaware of contact with a deadly virus, and unaware of the risk they in turn could pose to others."

If people do enter false information into contact record books, Ministry of Health officials have other means to try and track contacts, but it is much harder and takes far longer.

The government is expected to publish its level 2 order today, which may include updated contact tracing rules for businesses.

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