The Federal Government will begin texting Australians, with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt confirming on Tuesday that the government will directly message Australians to encourage stronger social distancing.
Mr Hunt announced this during a coronavirus update on Tuesday afternoon after a journalist questioned the minister on the government’s inadequate public awareness advertising.
“With the campaign under the 2.4 billion dollar package, the adds on TV at the moment, you have the hygiene ad that says wash your hands thoroughly, but it doesn’t say 20 seconds, the aged care ad says there will be restrictions but go to the generic health website,” said the journalist during the conference.
“In natural disasters governments have capacity to send mass texts to get in people’s faces. Why is that not happening given we are repeatedly seeing people breaching or not understanding social distancing?”
The Australian government has been keen to throw the term 'DDoS Attack' around when its online services fail. We saw this during the 2016 Census and it's being used now to explain the MyGov website going down after the Prime Minister announced a coronavirus payment for Jobseekers. So what exactly is the difference between a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, and a site or service unable to handle the load?Read more
Hunt didn’t provide any specific details, but he confirmed this was being implemented in the future. “One of the items part of the next phase as we continue to expand the advertising, will be direct text messaging,” said Hunt.
It’s currently unclear when the government will implement this, or how. It’s possible that it will work in a similar way to the government’s Emergency Alert system. The emergency alerts sends phone calls to landlines and texts messages to mobile phones to specific areas in an emergency situation – such as a bush fire. It can be utilised by police, fire and emergency services and Australians are not required to sign up to receive the notifications.
Gizmodo Australia has reached out to the Minister’s office for comment regarding how a similar text service would be activated for a coronavirus awareness campaign.
WHO WhatsApp Messages
While not specific to Australia, people can also sign up for WhatsApp messages from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for coronavirus related information.
In addition to the latest stats and news, the WHO bot will provide mythbusters and FAQs regarding the virus. You can receive these updates by clicking this link or adding +41 798 931 892 to your contact list and sending the message ‘join’.
Australia is behind on coronavirus tech and advertising
While Scott Morrison was chewing out Australians hitting Bondi over the weekend, it’s worth remembering that just over a week earlier he publicly stated that he was going to attend a football match. However, he did backflip on this over fear of being “misinterpreted.”
This incident is just one example of how a lack of strong government messaging has resulted in confusion and a misunderstanding of the severity of COVID-19 for many people. While the government has known about the virus for months, it really only began implementing safety measures over the past week.
While our government talks about flattening the curve, other countries are actively utilising technology to ensure it. South Korea is utilising phones and credit card data in order to trace the movements of infected citizens and find their contacts, according to the New York times. Everyone nearby a confirmed coronavirus infection will receive a text to let them know about their potential exposure, letting them self isolate and monitor themselves accordingly.
Comparatively, Australia is only thinking about sending some advertisement texts around hygiene now. We can’t dream of such a sophisticated curve flattening system when government sites such as MyGov have trouble staying online and our the minister in charge calls it a DDoS attack.