Credit: Australian Government
An independent report has found that Australia’s COVID-19 contact tracing app COVIDSafe has not been helpful in the country’s pandemic response. 
The report, written by consulting firm Abt Associates, was accessed and read by the Canberra Times via a freedom of information request. It covered the March-November 2020 period of the app’s implementation. 
Australia introduced the COVIDSafe app last year in April as a contact tracing tool. Jointly developed by the Health Department and the Digital Transformation Agency, the mobile app adopted the same Bluetooth technology used in Singapore’s TraceTogether contact tracing app. By May this year, there were more than 7 million registered users of the app in the country.
The document stated that the app has led to a “cumbersome and inefficient” process for government contact tracers to access information, such as entering data manually from a screen into a system or spreadsheet. Some tracers disclosed to reviewers that the app added two hours to the tracing process.
According to Canberra Times, the report also revealed that the app was not useful in high-risk settings, such as crowded indoor venues and major outdoor events. 
In the said six-month period, less than 2% of the total close contacts of COVID-19 positive patients in New South Wales were found, while no new close contacts had been found in Victoria and Queensland.
The review ultimately suggested the government explore options to enhance the contact tracing app while also recognising the performance barriers that are limiting its effectiveness and efficiency, including technical flaws, a lack of location data and a “cumbersome” system that increased the contact tracers’ workloads for little reward.
There were concerns about whether taxpayers’ money was well spent on the A$8 million COVIDSafe app. The federal government admitted in its own 12-month review of the app that it had been “rarely” used given the “relatively” low number of COVID-19 cases in Australia, coupled with the “effectiveness of our contact tracing processes”.
Still, for the government, the app will remain as an “important addition to the suite of tools available to complement existing contact tracing processes going forward”.
In the US, around seven in 10 Americans were found unwilling to download or use COVID-19 contact tracing apps, citing privacy and security issues, according to a study by security software vendor Avira last year.
Another US study published in May this year revealed low approval among Americans of the use of digital data for COVID-19 initiatives, such as contact tracing.
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