‘It doesn’t work’: Kevin Rudd calls for new lockdown strategy in Australia

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has called for a new approach to lockdowns as Australia continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to journalists after the Yahoo Finance All Market Summit on Thursday, Mr Rudd blasted the government’s COVIDSafe app as a failure.

He said better technology infrastructure was needed to boost Australia’s economic path out of the pandemic, and allow for more surgical lockdowns in the future, if required.

“I’m told by the prime minister and the health minister to download the app, I go ahead and do it,” he said.

While he still has the COVIDSafe app on his phone, “it doesn’t work,” he lamented.

“But frankly where is the effective Bluetooth technology that enables us not just to have a passive information system but an active information gathering system, if and when we need it.

Kevin Rudd seen holding up his iPhone with the contact tracing app.
Kevin Rudd downloaded the government's COVIDSafe app but says it doesn't work. Source: YahooFinance AMS

“The premium now needs to be placed on what the states, territories and Commonwealth do in terms of protocols and arrangements in terms of handling spot outbreaks in defined localities,” he said.

“The ability to swarm ... that is deploy technology and systems to lockdown a sub-locality immediately and be able to contact trace within 12 hours,” he said.

More intrusive app needed for ring fencing, Rudd says

While vague on the details, Mr Rudd believes a stronger technology commitment is paramount as the world waits for a vaccine which could be years away.

“The national cabinet’s core piece of work is to have that black box ready for any future – and they will come soon – locality specific outbreaks so that we can quickly, locally lockdown and deal immediately without shutting entire cities, states and nations down.

“I think that’s where the new wisdom lies.”

A more sophisticated, and intrusive app or other tracking infrastructure would allow for so-called ring fencing of local outbreaks, the former PM argued.

His comments come as Melbourne’s five million residents are staring down the barrel of 115 days under strict lockdown measure with a curfew set to remain until October 26.

The government’s COVIDSafe app has been plagued with technical issues, particularly on iPhones which block Bluetooth signals operating in the background. Given the impracticality of the app, it has largely been seen as ineffective and has played little role in identifying suspected cases in states and territories’ contact tracing efforts.

Victoria Police at work at a roadside checkpoint near Donnybrook, Victoria.
The former PM says a more localised lockdown strategy must be deployed in future outbreaks. Source: AAP

Vaccine may be years away: Helen Clarke

Kevin Rudd’s call was part of a broader push for more infrastructure spending from government during this recession but putting the political difficulties aside, using data collection to track outbreaks remains a lofty goal.

Israel, which introduced arguably the most far-reaching surveillance operation by using its own intelligence apparatus rather than an app, has been forced back into lockdown with a second wave.

The debate about technology tracing comes as former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clarke, who is heading up the global inquiry into the pandemic, warned we could be waiting years for an effective vaccine.

Ms Clarke shared the panel discussion with Mr Rudd at Thursday’s summit, telling attendees that a vaccine “is not around the corner”.

“It's proven very hard historically to find any effective vaccine against the coronavirus,” she said.

“The Americans continue to talk about something being available towards the latter half of next year, but some of the advice that I’ve had out of Geneva is, ‘Don’t hold your hopes up for until the end of 2022.’

“Other well-respected scientists are saying 2024, so my message is that we’re in for the long haul here.”

For the near future, masks will be the best defence, she said.

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