Daily Bulletin

News

  • Written by Mahmoud Elkhodr, Lecturer in Information and Communication Technologies, CQUniversity Australia

New Zealand’s coronavirus contact-tracing app COVID Tracer was revamped yesterday.

It now uses the Bluetooth-based Google/Apple exposure notification (GAEN) framework. This allows Android and Apple (iOS) devices to communicate via a contact-tracing mechanism built into the devices’ operating systems.

Meanwhile, Australia continues to use the COVIDSafe app, which also uses Bluetooth, but with a different underlying system.

With both countries indicating they’ll likely wait several weeks before a vaccine rollout, current trans-Tasman travel arrangements continue to be a protective barrier.

Quarantine-free travel is allowed from New Zealand to certain safe travel zones in Australia, as long as travellers haven’t visited a New Zealand COVID hotspot in the preceding fortnight.

As of tomorrow, Queensland will be included in the safe zones. Discussions around expanding the “travel bubble” further are ongoing.

But in this context, New Zealand’s COVID Tracer upgrade is unlikely to help as both countries are using different contact tracing systems that can’t communicate.

Comparing COVID Tracer and COVIDSafe

An Australia–NZ travel bubble needs a unified COVID contact-tracing app. We're not there. COVID Tracer requires Bluetooth to work.

While COVIDSafe and COVID Tracer both use Bluetooth to determine proximity between users, and log close contacts with “digital handshakes”, both apps have different approaches to reporting close contact information to authorities.

If a COVID Tracer user tests positive for COVID-19, they can alert close contacts who also have the app. These contacts then receive a notification and are advised to self isolate.

New Zealand health authorities can’t know the contacts’ details at any point unless they themselves come forward.

On the other hand, if a COVIDSafe user tests positive, they can choose to send information about their close contacts directly to Australian health authorities — who can then follow up with manual contact tracing.

Will the apps help form a travel bubble?

Both COVIDSafe and COVID Tracer use different underlying systems and therefore can’t work together. This means Australians visiting New Zealand would have to download the COVID Tracer app and use it throughout their visit.

An Australia–NZ travel bubble needs a unified COVID contact-tracing app. We're not there. If a COVID Tracer user tests positive for COVID-19 they can alert their close contacts, who are advised to call a healthline, wear a mask and stay away from public spaces.

Similarly, a New Zealand resident visiting Australia would need to download and use COVIDSafe. But this may not be possible for many, as setting up COVIDSafe requires a verified Australian phone number and postcode.

And even if travellers do use the other country’s app during their visit, this alone won’t mitigate the risk of bringing home the coronavirus.

For instance, if they contract the virus shortly before returning home (from someone who didn’t know they were infectious) and then delete the app as soon as they return, the news of potential infection won’t reach them.

Global approaches

The Australian government reportedly updated COVIDSafe last month to address its previous functionality issues, particularly for iPhone users.

While the update was needed, critics pointed out adopting the GAEN framework would have been a better option, as it’s more reliable and lays a foundation for cross-border contact tracing.

It’s also relatively straightforward to redevelop existing apps to integrate it within them.

Read more: By persisting with COVIDSafe, Australia risks missing out on globally trusted contact tracing

But even if COVIDSafe were redeveloped to adopt this framework, developers would still need to put in time before both COVIDSafe and COVID Trace could work together.

Such a cohesive cross-border contact-tracing solution would also require agreement by both countries on several fronts, including policies governing the technology, data access permission and the location of physical data servers.

That said, this isn’t impossible.

Australia and New Zealand could choose to follow the European Union’s efforts. Several EU member states, including Germany, Italy and Ireland, have adopted an EU-established service called the “gateway”.

An Australia–NZ travel bubble needs a unified COVID contact-tracing app. We're not there. This map shows which EU member states have a national contact tracing app using the ‘gateway’ system. EU, CC BY

The gateway acts as a middle man which relays information between different EU countries’ contact-tracing apps. Contact tracing can still occur while a person is travelling between the various countries, as long as their home country’s app has adopted the gateway system.

Where to from here?

Using mobile-based technologies for contact tracing comes with a range of challenges. Besides the issues discussed above, it’s also crucial for contact-tracing systems to be widely adopted by the communities they’re meant to service.

This has proven challenging. Uptake of COVID-19 contact-tracing apps remains low globally, despite governments pushing for mass use.

Meanwhile, Bluetooth itself is fallible. Determining distance between two devices using Bluetooth has limitations, since signal strength (and therefore accuracy) can be impacted by environmental factors.

Read more: False positives, false negatives: it's hard to say if the COVIDSafe app can overcome its shortcomings

For example, the signal may be weaker if a phone is kept inside a thick pocket. Or the app may pick up a signal from someone on the other side of a wall, with whom the user never came into contact.

There’s probably no quick fix. But if more time and effort are invested, we may discover a more suitable technology that can provide secure cross-border contact tracing, which also doesn’t impinge on users’ privacy.

Authors: Mahmoud Elkhodr, Lecturer in Information and Communication Technologies, CQUniversity Australia

Read more https://theconversation.com/an-australia-nz-travel-bubble-needs-a-unified-covid-contact-tracing-app-were-not-there-151761

Writers Wanted

The ebb and flow of COVID-19 vaccine support: what social media tells us about Australians and the jab

arrow_forward

Cyclone Seroja just demolished parts of WA – and our warming world will bring more of the same

arrow_forward

New Zealand’s new housing policy is really just a new tax package — and it’s a shambles

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Ray Hadley's interview with Scott Morrison

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ray.   HADLEY: I was just referring to this story from the Courier Mail, which you’ve probably caught up with today about t...

Ray Hadley & Scott Morrison - avatar Ray Hadley & Scott Morrison

Business News

Step by Step Moving Guide for Moving an Office

Compromising office hours, carrying bulk equipment, moving sensitive files — office relocation is no cakewalk. There is so much to do when you want to relocate your office. Aside from the major tas...

News Co - avatar News Co

5 Effective Employee Retention Strategies You Can Apply to Your Organization

Your employees are the lifeblood of your organization. No matter how great you think your company is, without the right talents to keep your business up and running, all your efforts to rise above...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

5 Reasons Why Organizational Culture is Crucial to Your Business

You have probably heard a lot about organizational culture and companies finding ways to create a positive culture in the workplace, but not so much about the reasons why it even matters to busine...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media