Govt mulls over two contact-tracing apps

Saturday July 11, 2020 Written by Published in Health
Brett Baudinet. 20071057 Brett Baudinet. 20071057

There are new delays to critical contract-tracing capacity, as Cabinet decides between two apps. 

A mobile app has been developed as a second contact-tracing option to protect the country from Covid-19.

The ExploreSafe contact tracing system is being assessed alongside the existing CookSafe card. The Cabinet will make a decision once officials have decided which is best.

Both apps will keep a digital record of where users have been, in case they need to be reached for coronavirus contact tracing.

The ExploreSafe mobile app, which uses Bluetooth technology for contact-tracing, has been developed by local businessman Brett Baudinet. It is part of another app, Emergency Call Services or eCall, that he had already proposed to government.

The app was free and the system was more effective and reliable, Baudinet said.

“As we all know, Covid-19 has brought a crashing halt to our tourism industry. An effective Covid-19 tracking system is required in order to safely open up our borders to visitors again and at the same time protecting our local community from the virus.

“The best thing about this app is once registered, the app works automatically in the background, not requiring any further scanning of QR Codes or updates to your movements.”

Baudinet said it was free for users to register for ExploreSafe. All data would be encrypted and securely stored in a managed server, ensuring user privacy was protected.

“Positive Covid-19 users are updated in the system and other users in close-contact are sent push-notifications via eCall with instructions on what to do next. Positive Covid-19 user information is not shared with other users.”

Baudinet said the ExploreSafe contact tracing system would be ready for launch in two or three weeks’ time.

“At the end of the day people obviously want to help assist in keeping the community safe from Covid-19, especially if it is easy to do.

“If it is too hard they simply won’t do it, so we must provide the easiest and most efficient way for them to be able to do that which is what ExploreSafe can do.”

CookSafe, piloted by Te Marae Ora health ministry in collaboration with the Private Sector Taskforce and Cook Islands Tourism has been in trial for the past three weeks.

Volunteers have been issued a CookSafe card with a QR code that they will keep with them all the time, and scan as they enter the premises of participating businesses. Information will be stored on an encrypted database that can only be accessed by authorised public health officials.

But a representative of Health Minister Rose Brown’s office confirmed there were two contact-tracing applications being assessed, and Cabinet would make the decision once officials had assessed them.

In talks last week, deputy prime ministers Mark Brown and Winston Peters agreed on the importance of “robust contact tracing systems”, if the Cooks-NZ border is to open.

Fletcher Melvin, the chair of the Private Sector Taskforce, said CookSafe was “more reliable and affordable” than the other choice, and Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Herman had approved its roll-out.

“We pushed the idea for the QR code system (CookSafe) because we recognise we needed some sort of contact tracing system implemented as quickly as possible.

“CookSafe is affordable and less reliant on technology. We are already in the process of trialling it out in the community while the other one hasn’t been trialled out yet.”

Baudinet said his ExploreSafe comes together with the eCall app, which is an instant emergency response system he first designed six years ago and had perfected over the years.

“Today when we call the police for any emergency, it takes time for them to note the information down and location before they dispatch that information to their officers or agencies such as fire and ambulance to attend to the emergency,” Baudinet said.

“With eCall instant response system, when a call comes through, the police or authorities use eCall GPS software to locate the emergency location using either the phone number called from, person’s name, or power meter box number.

“The eCall software will simultaneously notify the appropriate response team (i.e. ambulance, fire, police) and the location of the emergency while they are simultaneously still on the call.

“This eliminates any error especially with passing down of information such as location and speeds up the response time. Every second counts in such cases, it can mean life or death or can save a property.”

Baudinet said the ExploreSafe contact tracing system was synced with the eCall system.

There were options available to either use GPS Tracking or Bluetooth “close-contact” tracking and tracks both visitors and locals.

“ExploreSafe is a customised Covid-19 Tracking App solution that is designed to work with our country’s infrastructure and setup, requiring no constant entries such as scanning QR Codes. It is fully managed through eCall.”

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