NZ adopts Google/Apple COVID-19 exposure notification tech for contact tracing

Adding Bluetooth capability to the NZ COVID Tracer app from Thursday.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The New Zealand government has done what the Australian government should have by implementing the COVID-19 contact tracing framework developed by Apple and Google instead of pushing forward with a problem-riddled app.

From Thursday, the NZ COVID Tracer app will see the addition of Bluetooth tracing, which adopts the Apple/Google Exposure Notification Framework.

"Kiwis deserve a summer break more than ever this year but we cannot take our eye off the ball. The prospect of another outbreak should serve as a rock under our beach towels. That's no bad thing," Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins said.

When an app user tests positive for COVID-19, they can choose to alert other app users who may have been exposed to the virus. Other app users will then receive an alert if they have been near that app user who tested positive for COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health will not know an individual has received an alert unless that individual chooses to get in touch for information and advice.

"But it's vitally important that New Zealanders see Bluetooth as an additional tool that will help to speed up contact tracing," Hipkins said. "We need to continue to scan QR codes wherever we go, and businesses, services, and public transport providers must keep displaying their QR code posters at all alert levels.

"QR codes allow us to create a private record of the places we've been, while Bluetooth creates an anonymised record of the people we've been near."

Hipkins said combined, they complement the work done by public health units and the National Investigation and Tracing Centre to rapidly identify and isolate close contacts.

"That continues to be the primary method for contact tracing in New Zealand," he added.

There are currently around 2.4 million registered users of the NZ COVID Tracer app, of which approximately 90% will have phones that are compatible with Bluetooth tracing. 

Being mindful that many New Zealanders are without access to a compatible smartphone, Hipkins said that while no decisions have yet been made on any wider rollout of the proposed contact tracing cards, there is potential for the cards or other wearables to form part of a broader system of interoperable technologies.

"The recent community trial of the cards with the Te Arawa COVID-19 Response Hub has highlighted that a partnership approach to any future rollout of cards or wearables will be essential to increasing community trust and participation with contact tracing technologies," he said.

The app has been endorsed by the Privacy Commissioner, and the Ministry of Health will release the source code on Friday.

NZ COVID Tracer will update automatically and Bluetooth tracing will be turned off by default.

As of Tuesday, the total number of active cases in New Zealand was 54. The total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic hit the country is 1,729.

Six new cases were found on Tuesday, all of them were returned travellers.


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