Going viral: How a million Aussies jumped on COVIDSafe app in first hours

At least one million Australians have downloaded the COVID-19 tracer app, which aims to help health officials identify people who may have come into contact with someone with the disease.

Apr 27, 2020, updated Apr 27, 2020
The new government app "COVIDSafe" is seen on a television monitor during a press conference at Parliament House on Sunday. (Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The new government app "COVIDSafe" is seen on a television monitor during a press conference at Parliament House on Sunday. (Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Called COVIDSafe, the voluntary app became available for download and registration on Sunday evening and has been backed by doctors, nursing, business and banking groups.

As at 10:30pm, “1 million Australians have now downloaded and registered”, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt tweeted late Sunday.

The app assists in the early alert and finding of people who may have been in contact with a person who has tested positive to coronavirus.

Hunt also said anyone concerned about privacy could use a fake name when they registered for the app.

“Yes you can – that’s legally available,” he said.

“Obviously it’s better, I think, if it’s exactly who you are. But above all else we want to be able to be in contact, for the state health officials to be in contact.”

The app is based on Singapore’s Tracetogether software, which records the Bluetooth connections a phone makes with others so the user can give that data to state health authorities if they catch the virus.

The Government hopes a broader testing regime and the contact tracing app will lead to a relaxation of social and trading restrictions imposed since the pandemic began, earlier rather than later.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said only health authorities would have access to the data.

“It’s another tool we need to get back to normal as much as we can,” he said.

Contact numbers picked up by a person’s phone can only be downloaded by a health officer when someone gets the coronavirus and gives permission.

“No other government agency can use this information, no one in the commonwealth government at all, and in state authorities, only the health officer can use it,” he said.

“Not the police, not the welfare people, nowhere else. Just the health officer.”

Australian Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said safeguards were in place to protect personal information collected via the app, and her office would watch its implementation closely.

“We can audit the system and investigate complaints from the public about privacy issues,” the commissioner.

The app has been activated under the Biosecurity Act as an interim measure, and while legislation make misusing the data a jailable offence won’t be taken to parliament until May, Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen said he had no qualms about using it.

Australian Medical Association President Tony Bartone said the app was an important part of Australia’s response to the pandemic.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott urged all Australians to download the app.

“The more Australians who download the app the safer we will all be and the more quickly we can begin to ease restrictions,” she said.

Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh said Australia’s bank chiefs were right behind efforts to open up the economy in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, a Newspoll published in The Australian on Monday found 54 per cent of the nation’s 25 million-strong population was prepared to ­install the app.

About 39 per cent did not intend to use it and seven per cent said they didn’t know or didn’t have a mobile phone.

This compares to Australia Institute research showing 45 per cent of Australians planned to download and use the mobile app, while 28 per cent said they wouldn’t. A further 27 per cent were unsure.


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