explainer

Everything we know about the 'track and trace' app that could be the key to ending lockdown.

As Australia begins to see the growth of new coronavirus cases slowing down, the Federal Government is starting to plan a strategy for relaxing lockdown restrictions around the country.

Although it’s likely that we won’t be able to entirely put social distancing behind us anytime soon, there’s a strong likelihood that restrictions can be eased in the coming months.

In order for restrictions to be eased, however, there are a number of strategies involving tracking and tracing cases of COVID-19, that may be implemented to allow for greater public movement.

Mamamia’s Claire Murphy answers all of your COVID-19 questions. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

The Federal Government believes that restrictions could be reduced in the next few months if there’s more testing implemented and greater surveillance of those diagnosed with the virus.

According to the ABCthe Morrison Government is currently developing a smartphone app, which would allow authorities to trace contact between people who test positive for the coronavirus and people who they may have had contact with.

By having much faster ability to trace cases, authorities would have a greater ability to stop the spread of new infections faster.

The app, which would not be mandatory for Australians to sign up for, will reportedly plot anyone who was in close proximity with someone for 15 minutes or more who tested positive for COVID-19.

The ABC reports that the app, which may be ready in a fortnight, would be effective in Australia if at least 40 per cent of all Australians voluntarily agreed to be monitored.

Are similar apps being used overseas?

At the moment, a similar app, called TraceTogether, is being used to track and trace cases of coronavirus in Singapore.

Although the app was introduced on March 20, only 20 per cent of Singapore’s citizens have since agreed to share their movements with the Government.

The app works by using bluetooth technology to record and detect users of the app who are in close proximity for 30 minutes.

Although this is recorded in the user’s phone, users will only be asked to share these records with the Singapore government as part of contact tracing investigations.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy confirmed that Australia could follow Singapore’s lead.

“We’re very keen to use it and use it perhaps even more extensively than Singapore,” Dr Murphy said, according to news.com.au.

“Obviously there’s a conversation to be had with the community on the acceptability of it,” he added.

“But we think that the idea of the app is a really excellent one if you’ve programmed it properly, and got the right community buy-in, so we’re actively looking at that.”

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The UK have also confirmed plans for a tracking and tracing app. The app, which is currently being developed, will warn users if they have recently been in contact with a suspected or confirmed case of the coronavirus.

According to the BBC, the British National Health Service is currently “working closely with the world’s leading tech companies” on the app.

How could Australia’s COVID-19 lockdown end?

Speaking to Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky, ABC health expert Dr Norman Swan explained there are three possible scenarios for emerging out of our current restrictions.

“One is you keep people aged 70 and over indoors to protect themselves and then you sort of take your foot of the brake and allow everybody else to mingle and the virus to spread, and you slowly get a bit of immunity in the population and hopefully you don’t overwhelm your intensive care units and kill doctors and nurses at the same time,” Dr Swan said.

Listen to Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky, below. Post continues after podcast.

He said the second option is to not just ‘flatten the curve’, but “really knock it off”.

“You really get it down to very low levels, so that on any day there’s only maybe nine, 10, 15 new cases of COVID-19.

“And if you’ve got in place a testing regime which tests every single person with symptoms, every single person with a fever, you test them, they’re positive, you isolate them, they stick to the isolation, you get their contacts, they get quarantined. You ring fence people, and you ring fence suburbs where there’s clusters, lower their activity, then you could actually, potentially, slowly let your foot off the brake and see what happens.”

Then, there would be a staged process of reopening society, slowly.

“It could be that kids go back to school because they don’t seem to be big spreaders, then it could be that you allow restaurants to open and people to get back to a few categories of work… You do one thing at a time, watch what happens, and over a period of time you slowly get back to some semblance of normality,” Dr Swan said.

“But it won’t be normality, it will still be social restriction. There will still be the economy working at a lower level, but nothing like we’ve got at the moment.”

The third option is to continue with strict restrictions, where people are only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons such as going to the supermarket or for exercise, which is less sustainable over a long period of time.

Feature Image: Getty.

For more on COVID-19:

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.


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