The milestone Australia must hit to get an 'early mark' on restrictions

·Assistant News Editor
·5-min read

Australia has “earned an early mark” from coronavirus lockdown Prime Minister Scott Morrison triumphantly declared Friday afternoon – but there’s just one catch.

Download the coronavirus tracking app.

That’s the constant messaging from the Australian federal government as it dangles the promise of easing nationwide restrictions which have forced businesses across the country to close.

The PM will meet with state and territory leaders next Friday to discuss the national roadmap out of lockdown. That meeting will be “about how restrictions can be eased,” Mr Morrison told reporters on Friday afternoon.

However, Mr Morrison stressed that more people need to download the COVIDSafe app if restrictions are to be lifted.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has one message for Australians. Source: AAP
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has one message for Australians. Source: AAP

"There are over 3.5 million downloads of the COVIDSafe app," he said. "There needs to be millions more. This is critically important.”

Widespread uptake of the app has been the objective of the government since it launched on Sunday night.

From the outset, the government has said it hopes 40 per cent of the population will use the app. If the 25 million population of Australia was taken as a whole (including children without a mobile phone), that 40 per cent target equates to about 10 million downloads.

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In that case, Australia is less than half way there.

It’s an ambitious target, however. Australia’s app is largely based off a similar app rolled out in Singapore which saw just under 20 per cent of uptake among its 5.6 million people.

“It is the protection of the COVIDSafe app which enables us to know who has been in contact with the virus,” Mr Morrison said.

“We need that tool to open up the economy.”

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

The Australian Government's new voluntary coronavirus tracing app 'COVIDSafe' is seen on a mobile phone. Source: AAP
The Australian Government's new voluntary coronavirus tracing app 'COVIDSafe' is seen on a mobile phone. Source: AAP

11 of 15 conditions filled for lockdown exit

There are other important aspects of Australia’s coronavirus defence that have needed to be bolstered in recent weeks before society could begin opening up.

In addition to the technology-based “track and trace” capacity provided by the app, increasing testing capacity and acquiring more medical equipment such as ventilators and protective gear for healthcare workers have also been major areas of focus.

Mr Morrison said on Friday that anyone with the slightest sniffle can get tested as states have boosted their testing capacity and are urging residents with any symptoms to present themselves to a testing clinic.

The government will also be embarking on testing asymptomatic workers in critical industries like aged care.

The national cabinet continues to be guided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC). The advice from the expert panel is that of 15 conditions identified as necessary before relaxing restrictions, Australia is currently on track to meet 11 of them.

“Governments will expedite four conditions - surveillance (testing), state and territory surveillance plans and resources, use of COVIDSafe App and stocks of personal protective equipment,” the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement this afternoon.

The 15 conditions are as follows:

  • Sophisticated surveillance of disease incidence and spread (Not yet achieved)

  • Community adherence to public health measures

  • A finalised surveillance plan must be wholly enabled with adequate resources (Not yet achieved)

  • A better understanding of the implications of the modelling and a better understanding of the characteristics and transmission of the virus

  • Capacity to conduct testing more broadly

  • Sufficient public health personnel

  • Contact tracing mechanisms are well established in jurisdictions

  • Technology for contact tracing, data collection and analysis (Not yet achieved)

  • The health system is currently able to manage usual healthcare needs in addition to current levels of COVID-19 related illness

  • The health system currently has the ability to handle surge capacity

  • States have enough hospital beds and ventilators

  • Adequate stocks of PPE - Masks

  • Adequate stocks of PPE - Gowns and gloves (Not yet achieved)

  • Sufficient stocks of healthcare consumables like drugs

  • Ongoing workforce training

Of the above conditions, every member of the Australian public can play a role in achieving just one, Mr Morrison said Friday. That, of course, is downloading the app.

You can download the app here.

COVIDSafe app issues remain for iPhone users

Despite the strong push from government, there is concern the track and trace coronavirus app continues to face functional issues for iPhone users.

The COVIDSafe app relies on Bluetooth to connect with other users and make a "digital handshake" which is then encrypted and stored on each device to record a person coming into contact with another device holder.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt at a press conference to launch the new government app on April 26. Source: AAP
Minister for Health Greg Hunt at a press conference to launch the new government app on April 26. Source: AAP

As a privacy mechanism, Apple blocks apps from producing Bluetooth signals if the app is only operating in the background of a device.

Therefore, for Apple users of the COVIDSafe app, they must leave the app open in the foreground of their phone, and their phone unlocked, for it to work at optimal capacity – an untenable requirement.

A spokesperson for the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) which is overseeing the project, told the ABC that the technical limitation may inhibit the ability of iPhones to exchange signals.

"When [an app] is running in the background, there may be some variability in the digital handshakes on iOS devices," he said.

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