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    POSITIVE: Uniting Wimmera executive officer Josh Koenig believes there needs to be more education around what information the Federal Government’s coronavirus contact-tracing app will gather. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

‘Absolute confidence’ needed with tracing app | COVID-19


Wimmera healthcare leaders have given mixed reviews about the viability of a Federal Government-backed coronavirus contact-tracing app released on Sunday night.   

The COVIDSafe app, modelled from Singapore’s ‘TraceTogether’ app, uses Bluetooth to identify when two people with the app installed are within one-and-a-half metres of each other for more than 15 minutes. 

Running on an opt-in system, its uptake will play a large part in helping ease restrictions.

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The Federal Government has indicated at least 40 percent of the population would need to download the app for it to be effective. 

Uniting Wimmera executive officer Josh Koenig supports the app, but said he believed the Federal Government needed to provide greater transparency about what actually happened to people’s data to allay fears about location tracking.  

“On a personal level, I’m supportive of that app – anything that can help us trace and mitigate any potential risk is a positive in my view,” he said.

“People are worried about what the app will actually do. 

“I think if there’s more education around what information the app will gather – if the government was to put out an FAQ about the app – that might help get more people onboard.”

Mr Koenig said services such as Google Maps were already tracking people’s locations.  

“If you use location services on your phone already, like Google Maps, those services can be traced back to where you are at any given time anyway,” he said.  

“I know people are a little worried about privacy, but if the government for some unbeknown reason wants to trace my boring life, then go for it.” 

Mr Koenig said if the app was successful, allowing the ease of State Government lockdown measures, it was important people remained mindful of the risk of transmission. 

“People just need to remember if they’re going to get onboard with this process, they need to be as vigilant as they have been thus far,” he said. 

“This is merely mitigation for it to stop spreading any further, an app won’t prevent someone from catching it.” 

Data to be stored on the app includes the name, phone number, postcode and age range of a person – information required when the app is first downloaded.

Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said in a statement privacy issues still existed following the release of the app. 

She urged the government to make a firm commitment to introduce legislation on the first sitting day in May to safeguard users’ privacy regarding how long data would be stored and deleted. 

Wimmera Primary Care Partnership executive officer Geoff Witmitz said he was unsure the government would receive enough support for the app to be effective.  

He compared the tracing app with the government’s My Health Records, an e-health record system launched in 2012, which received little fanfare and uptake when first released. 

“It’s going to be a hard push because change is difficult in this environment,” he said. 

“We can use the My Health Record as the perfect example, when that was an opt-in system, very few people did.” 

Mr Witmitz said the app could serve as a powerful tool in minimising transmission, but people needed ‘absolute confidence’ in government if it were to work. 

“The multiplication factor is huge with this virus, so an app does have benefits if it gets its purpose right,” he said.  

“But the community would need to have absolute confidence that our politicians have done the work to protect our privacy and it’s going to be used for its intended purpose and once completed, deleted.” 

He said social-distancing measures still served as the most viable tool in minimising the spread of COVID-19, especially as the country approached winter. 

“We’re going into virus season. We just need to know that we’re on top of it – we’re just waiting for a vaccine, because then we can be 100 percent sure we’ve got some protection,” he said. 

“At this point in time, I think we’re on top of this with the self-isolation.

“That’s simple and people know why we do it. I’m not sure if this app will give us the same feeling of safety.”

The entire April 29, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire April 29, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!