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

NSW-Victoria border permit site stalls as COVID-19 lockout deadline ends

In the interim, travellers will need to demonstrate their eligibility to cross the border to police, a Service NSW spokesperson has said.

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The Victorian government this week decided to lock down parts of the state, introducing "stay at home" restrictions due to another wave of COVID-19 cases.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, after consultations with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, gave the order that from Tuesday midnight, the NSW-Victoria border would be closed.

The border closure means that from July 8, anyone wishing to travel from Victoria to New South Wales will require a border entry permit.

Exceptions do apply to a handful of situations, particularly around border communities, but both adults and children are required to get a permit. The permit is valid for 14 days from the date of issue and applies to all borders covering land, air, and sea, as well as river crossings. 

There are a number of conditions, but those wishing to obtain a permit on Tuesday night were unable to determine if they qualified for one as the website fell over due to high levels of demand. It was reported by the ABC that 45 minutes after Service NSW opened its online applications for permits at 7:30pm AEST, the site had crashed.

"The Service NSW permit application system is live and experiencing high levels of demand," a Service NSW spokesperson told ZDNet on Wednesday morning.

"We are aware that some people have experienced delays in securing a permit and we apologise for the delay."

In the interim, the spokesperson said travellers will need to demonstrate their eligibility to cross the border to police by "carrying relevant documentation based on a category of exemption".

It follows the state government earlier this month experiencing a power outage at one of its data centres in Silverwater, west of Sydney, which resulted in many state health and customer service functions reverting to manual processes.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday at the National Press Club, Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert discussed the country's coronavirus contact tracing app, COVIDSafe, conceding the app has not actually uncovered a case of COVID-19 that wasn't already verbally communicated by the patient.

"From what I've seen, is that it's been used well over 30 times and it has picked up exactly what the manual tracing has got," he said.

"One of the problems -- one of the good things that is a problem all in the same breath -- is we've had so few cases to-date, notwithstanding some of the real challenges we're seeing down south, that we really haven't been able to see the app roll out in its full capability.

"But remember, the app's designed to enhance a manual tracing process and if we get to the end where there is a vaccine and all we've done is back up manual tracing and confirm, hallelujah for the country. That'll be a great thing."

Discussing the privacy protections wrapped around COVIDSafe, Robert discussed the use of a "sovereign" Australian app -- one that was based on Singapore's TraceTogether -- and said Google and Apple's exposure notification framework was their way of saying to government: "Hey, if you use our framework, data can be held and just go from phone to phone and bypass government completely".

"That's Google and Apple's approach and, of course, they bump up the Bluetooth signal strength if you follow their way," he continued.

"Australia -- many other nations of the world, India, Singapore, Norway, Cyprus, Israel, France, Great Britain, the first digital movers of the world -- decided to actually take a sovereign view of COVID tracing in their app and connect through to their public health officials."

Robert said COVIDSafe "polls" every minute, versus the Google and Apple capabilities that poll every five minutes.

"As a sovereign nation, we'll determine when the pandemic is over. [We are] not going to wait for Google and Apple to turn off their exposure notification framework with a new update to iOS, so I think there are some real sovereignty issues with allowing Google and Apple to dictate terms and how to do COVID tracing," he said.

The government has completed seven updates to the app, with the last one coming a few days ago to make it available in Arabic, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Robert said the updates have addressed over 30 potential bugs and areas for improvement raised by the tech community.

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