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InnovationAus

No plans to shut down ‘disastrous’ COVIDSafe app

There are no plans to switch off the controversial COVIDSafe app despite contact tracing no longer taking place in Australia and a clause in the legislation underpinning it saying it can be shut down when it is no longer required or effective.

The COVIDSafe app was launched in 2020 by the federal government and uses a smartphone’s Bluetooth technology to log close contacts between users, and then send these to a national database which state health authorities can access if a user tests positive for Covid-19.

Despite launching with much fanfare and the federal government comparing its use to putting on sunscreen, the app has only discovered 17 unique close contacts in the two years since it was launched.

Credit: Daria Nipot / Shutterstock.com

A report by an independent consultancy found that COVIDSafe was “ineffective” in very high-risk settings and was wasting the time of state health authorities.

It cost nearly $10 million in private consultancy fees to develop COVIDSafe, which is still costing about $60,000 per month to run.

There is no longer any contact tracing taking place in Australia, rendering COVIDSafe effectively pointless.

Close contacts of a positive case no longer have to isolate in any state or territory except for Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In most jurisdictions, a close contact is defined as a household contact, making contact tracing simple.

The legislation underpinning the COVIDSafe app included a clause for the Health Minister to shut down the app when they are “satisfied that…the use of the app is no longer required to prevent or control, or no longer likely to be effective in preventing or controlling, COVID-19 in Australia”.

The Minister must consult with the Chief Medical Officer before making this decision, and can then order that all COVIDSafe data be wiped.

But this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, despite contact tracing no longer being required.

InnovationAus.com understands that the Department of Health has no plans to shut down the app, and this decision will be left up to the incoming Health Minister following the federal election.

And despite criticising the development and effectiveness of COVIDSafe, the Opposition has also not pledged to bring an end to the app.

“The COVIDSafe app has been a disaster and wasn’t fit for purpose from the moment it was released,” a Labor spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.

“Scott Morrison and Stuart Robert need to answer for failing to protect Australians with the app they touted as our sunscreen against COVID, but only identified 17 unique contacts in the height of the pandemic. If successful at the election we would take advice from the Department of Health about the ongoing utility of the app.”

The Senate Select Committee on Covid-19 earlier this year called on the federal government to halt any future spending on the COVIDSafe app, saying it is “not fit for its intended purpose, has cost millions of dollars, and offered limited public value”.