Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Australian government readies COVID-19 information app

A vendor has been lined up to deliver a mobile platform to allow the dissemination of COVID-19 information, related restrictions, and other supporting advice and directions.

The federal government is looking to publish an app to help distribute information on the COVID-19 outbreak.

The COVID-19 Gov't Mobile Platform opportunity was posted on the Digital Transformation Agency's (DTA) Digital Marketplace, which is touted by the agency as being a "simple, open platform that brings government buyers and digital sellers together".

"This request seeks to engage an experienced seller to partner with the DTA to continue to develop, support, and host a government mobile platform to allow the dissemination of COVID-19 virus information, related restrictions, and other supporting advice and directions," the overview says.

See also: Canberra coughs up AU$2.4b health package to fight COVID-19

The opportunity was posted on Wednesday and will remain open until 6 pm AEDT on Thursday.

So far, only one vendor has been invited to participate.

The length of the contract is six months, with the option for a further six-month extension.

Essential criteria is listed as experience in developing mobile platforms, and desirable criteria is that the successful vendor has the ability to support and host mobile platforms during a pandemic.

The app was initially announced when the federal government first unveiled its COVID-19 support package. It falls under the new national communications campaign, which will see AU$30 million spent on providing people with "practical advice on how they can play their part in containing the virus and staying healthy", such as through the app.

The Australian government on Wednesday began its text message campaign, telling nearly 36 million mobile numbers how to navigate the health of individuals and the broader community.

"As the spread of the coronavirus increases, it's vital every Australian understands the practical action they must take to look after themselves and help us protect those most at risk," a statement from Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Australian Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy, and Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said.

The government said it would continue to use text messages as one of its communication methods.

This follows Canberra suffering backlash earlier this week for its inability to provide appropriate tech capability to handle the number of Australians seeking government assistance.

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In the wake of COVID-19, social distancing measures and business closures have left many without a job. In response, the Australian government announced, over the past fortnight, a handful of measures to support the newly unemployed as more than 1 million Australians could be forced onto welfare.

However, on Monday, thousands were unable to access the government's myGov online portal to sign up for income assistance.

"We are deeply sorry about this," Morrison said on Tuesday night.

"We've gone from 6,000 to 50,000 to 150,000 all in the space of, a matter of a day. And tonight, they're working to boost it again. I would say to Australians, yes, we are terribly sorry, but at the same time, we are asking Australians, even in these most difficult of circumstances, to be patient. Everyone is doing their best."

Open-sourcing tracing tech in Singapore

Earlier this week, Singapore announced it would open-source its COVID-19 contact-tracing app, TraceTogether.

"GovTech Singapore is now working around the clock to finalise our protocol reference documents and reference implementation, so that others may deploy their own flavours of TraceTogether -- each implementing the BlueTrace protocol," Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post.

"We believe that making our code available to the world will enhance trust and collaboration in dealing with a global threat that does not respect boundaries, political systems or economies."

TraceTogether is built on the BlueTrace protocol, designed by the Government Digital Services team at Government Technology Agency of Singapore.

Participating devices exchange proximity information whenever an app detects another device with the TraceTogether app installed.

Balakrishnan said TraceTogether has been installed by more than 620,000 people.

The app uses the Bluetooth Relative Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) readings between devices across time, to approximate the proximity and duration of an encounter between two users, the TraceTogether website explains.

"This proximity and duration information is stored on one's phone for 21 days on a rolling basis -- anything beyond that would be deleted. No location data is collected," it adds.

"If a person unfortunately falls ill with COVID-19, the Ministry of Health (MOH) would work with them to map out their activity for past 14 days, for contact tracing. And if the person has the TraceTogether app installed, they can grant MOH to access their TraceTogether Bluetooth proximity data -- making it quicker for MOH to contact people who had close contact with the infected individual, to provide timely guidance and care."