The Federal Government’s COVIDSafe app has been successfully used for the first time by health officials to access data of a coronavirus patient in Victoria.
Australia’s “ticket out of lockdown” was introduced to aid contact tracing, by recording when users have been within 1.5m of other users for more than 15 minutes, helping authorities track down people who may have been exposed to the virus if someone with the app then tested positive.
While it’s faced backlash over glitching and some Australians have point-blank refused to download the app over concern for their privacy, it’s the first time Victorian health officials have employed the app.
Victoria is the first state to publicly announce use of the app – though federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said this morning NSW had also used the app while trying to track the spread of the virus in the state.
A Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) spokesman confirmed a coronavirus positive patient who had the COVIDSafe app registered on their smartphone was identified on Monday.
The data located one close contact to the patient who has since been told to isolate.
The DHHS spokesman said the patient consented to health authorities using the data on their phone to enable contact tracing.
“Access is strictly limited to trained public health officers carrying out contact tracing functions,” he said.
“Victoria has legislated privacy obligations when handling citizens’ private data or health data and these obligations will be adhered to.
“With only a small number of cases in Victoria, there have been few opportunities to use the app so far,” he said. “We hope this continues.”
Using Bluetooth, the app exchanges encrypted details on detection of another user, including name, age range, phone number, postcode and date and time of the contact.
That data is then stored on a person’s phone for up to 21 days.
Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly confirmed last Wednesday the COVIDSafe app was working properly for all 5.6 million Australians who had downloaded it, after all states and territories signed up to allow its use.
Professor Kelly said privacy and data security issues related to the app were “all taken care of” and 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”.
“We will look forward to seeing how that helps our disease detectives do their work in the coming days,” he said.
Federal and state leaders and health authorities have repeatedly urged Australians to download the app, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying: “The first job of the COVIDSafe app is to keep you safe.
“Its most important job is to keep you safe, every single Australian that downloads it, it keeps them safe,” he said.
“If you have come into contact with someone who also has the app who has been infected by COVID-19, you will know and people will get in touch with you so they can tell you you have been officially compromised by the virus and then you can make decisions to make sure you protect your other family members and those in your household.”