Victoria’s health authority has accessed data from the COVIDSafe app for 21 coronavirus cases but it is yet to identify a single contact manual tracers hadn’t already uncovered, Gizmodo Australia has learned.
Australia’s contact tracing app, COVIDSafe, has been available for nearly six weeks with 6.2 million users downloading and registering with it but as we’ve previously reported, health authorities around the country have had little use for the app’s data so far. This can be attributed to Australia’s slowing infection rate but a relatively low uptake of the app and crucial issues with its functionality also forms part of the equation.
COVIDSafe data has been accessed 21 times in Victoria
Gizmodo Australia now understands Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services has accessed the COVIDSafe data of 21 coronavirus cases after the people registered with COVIDSafe had provided the department with permission to access their contacts.
Every one of those cases’ contacts, however, had already been identified by the department’s manual contact tracing team.
“Victorian public health officials have begun using the new COVIDSafe app to help find close contacts of people who have tested positive,” a spokesperson for the department said to Gizmodo Australia in a statement.
“With only a small number of cases in Victoria, there have been few opportunities to use the app so far — and we hope this continues.
“We urge Victorians to download the app to augment our contact tracing tools to stop the spread of the virus. This will be increasingly important as restrictions are eased further and people are more mobile.”
According to an ABC report, Victoria was the first state to confirm it had used the app’s data for a single patient on May 18 — 22 days after the app’s release. It’s understood while an initial contact was identified by the app that manual tracers couldn’t uncover at the time, it’s since been ruled out as it didn’t fit the criteria of a “close contact”.
With few cases appearing elsewhere around the country, it remains one of two states known to be actively using the data with NSW admitting to accessing it less than a dozen times, according to the Australian Financial Review.
The app’s limited usage by health authorities doesn’t mean it’s a failure but it does show that it’s had little success in achieving its primary purpose, at least so far. The government initially touted COVIDSafe as a “major tool” for streamlining contact tracing and strongly encouraged Australians to download it so restrictions could be eased.
Victoria’s manual contact tracing team grows to 1,000 “disease detectives”
Just weeks earlier, the department confirmed it had 1,000 people trained in manual contact tracing and were equipped to handle any outbreaks faced in the state.
“We’ve grown our contact tracing team from less than 60 people to more than 1,000 disease detectives who quickly chase up confirmed cases, isolating anyone who has potentially been infected to slow the spread of coronavirus within the community,” a DHHS spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo Australia at the time.
While the rest of Australia has remained relatively free from major outbreaks in recent weeks, Victoria had continued to experience small outbreaks during May, with 13 cases being recorded from a single cluster in Keilor Downs.
Update: This article was originally published on June 3, 2020 but has been updated with the latest figures and the DHHS’s clarification on an earlier unidentified contact.