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

Canberra using a cold beer on a Friday as a guilt trip to download COVIDSafe

The prime minister just wants Australians to get back to a normal life involving footy and the pub.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday revealed the National Cabinet would be looking at easing Australia's social distancing restrictions over the next week, due to the country's positive response to containing the COVID-19 outbreak.

The key to easing restrictions, however, is downloading the COVIDSafe app.

"Well, the first step to getting back to that is downloading COVIDSafe," Morrison said in direct response to being asked when Australians can go back to the pub.

"Now, if that isn't an incentive for Australians to download COVIDSafe on a Friday, I don't know what is … I encourage them if they're talking to each other on Zoom, or they're having a cold one later on today in that environment, if they're looking forward to doing it in a pub, well, that is a prerequisite to even getting to that conversation."

The prime minister has been touting the tracking app's voluntary use, despite previously likening downloading the app to Australians performing a "national service". On Friday, he said he cannot make it mandatory due to legislative barriers.

"It can't be a requirement, that's prevented under the legal arrangements," he said.

"But we are encouraging it within the Commonwealth public service, the state governments will be encouraging it within the state public services, to encourage the employees to download the COVIDSafe app.

"And there's nothing wrong with that."

See also: Australians urged to take up mental health telehealth and put on 'digital sunscreen'

He said cafes, restaurants, or pubs operating in takeaway mode will be encouraging their patrons to download the app "because if you download the COVIDSafe app, then more businesses will be open".

"It's done on the basis of encouragement in the national public health interest … in the national economic interest," he added.

"The COVIDSafe app is the major obstacle now, between us freeing up a lot of these restrictions, in a cautious way, in a careful way.

"But the degree honestly, to which we can confidently ease the restrictions that are in place now, it really does depend on how much of a coverage we can get with the COVIDSafe app, and how much that builds over the course of the next week."

Hosted by Amazon Web Services out of its Sydney region, the app is a rework of Singapore's TraceTogether. Its source code is due out within a fortnight.

Through the use of Bluetooth, the app records "digital handshakes" for each minute that two phones using the app are in contact.

When a user tests positive for coronavirus, they are asked to upload the handshakes to a centralised National COVIDSafe Data Store, which are then accessed by contract tracers to notify people who are determined to be at risk.

The handshakes contain: The unique IDs of each user in contact -- said to be an "encrypted version of the user's mobile phone number"; Bluetooth signal strength used to determine distance; and a timestamp. Handshakes are stored on mobile devices and deleted 21 days after being created.

Responsibility for the implementation and operation of the app lies with the federal Department of Health, along with the Digital Transformation Agency, but app information is passed only to state agency-based contact tracers.

As of Wednesday evening, over 3 million Australians have installed the app since Sunday, Health Minister Greg Hunt tweeted.