13 May 2020

Australia's tracing app COVIDSafe now 'fully functional'

7:45 pm on 13 May 2020

The Australian Federal government's coronavirus tracing app is now working after all territories signed up to allow its use, its deputy chief medical officer confirmed.

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Photo: YouTube/Screenshot

Professor Paul Kelly said 5.6 million Australians had now downloaded the COVIDSafe app.

"I can announce the app is fully functional," he said during an update in Canberra on Wednesday afternoon.

"It is ready to go, all the states and territories have now signed up to use it.

"They have provided information about who in their public health units will be using it."

The announcement comes after it was revealed the information collected by the app would not be available to state and territory health officials until there was agreement by all jurisdictions on how the app would operate.

It meant that even if a person tested positive to Covid-19, the information could not be passed on to expedite the contact tracing process.

Prof Kelly said privacy and data security issues were now "all taken care of", and all states and territories had agreed to the proposals outlined by the Federal Government.

"[All jurisdictions] have now been trained to use it and know what information they are going to get and how it can be used for contact-tracing purposes," he said.

"We will look forward to seeing how that helps our disease detectives do their work in the coming days."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP

Kelly unaware if app used for contact tracing yet

Despite the app being operational, when asked if it had been used for contact tracing yet Prof Kelly said "not that he [knew] about".

"I am looking forward to hearing from colleagues how useful it is," he said.

"If I was doing that job now I would be looking forward to seeing how that contact-tracing app could give that information very quickly."

He encouraged people to download the app if they had not already, saying it would "make a big difference".

The app works by using a phone's Bluetooth signal to "ping" or exchange a "digital handshake" with another phone, also with the app, when two people are within 1.5 metres of each other for more than 15 minutes.

The data is then encrypted and stored on the person's phone until it is unlocked by health authorities if the user tests positive for the virus.

Finger-prick tests 'not useful' for diagnosis, Kelly says

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer was also asked about whether there were still plans to roll out "finger-prick" tests, previously approved by the government.

Prof Kelly said the standard Covid-19 tests, known as polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, were the "gold standard" and were preferred because they were faster.

He said the finger-prick tests were not good for quick diagnosis because they looked for antibodies that are created when a person is infected with the virus but can take up to two weeks to be produced and detectable.

"That's not to say they're useless, they can have some use further down the track," Prof Kelly said.

"They're just not useful for diagnosis of an acute case.

"We purchased those antibody tests at a particular point in time when testing kits were at an extremely low number and difficult to find elsewhere in the world."

But Prof Kelly said while they would not be used for diagnosing the virus they would be put to other uses in the future.

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