Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Bluebooth boost for COVID app

Contact tracing in New Zealand will get a substantial boost from tomorrow with the addition of Bluetooth tracing to the NZ COVID Tracer app, Minister for COVID-19 Response Chris Hipkins said today.

“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,” Mr Hipkins said.    

“As summer approaches and Kiwis take holidays and travel more around the country, this new Bluetooth functionality adds to the tools we already have and improves our chances of getting on top of any potential outbreak quickly – as long as we use them,” he said.

“It allows app users to receive an alert if they have been near another app user who tests positive for COVID-19. 

“But it’s vitally important that New Zealanders see Bluetooth as an additional tool that will help to speed up contact tracing. 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.

“Combined, they complement the work done by our 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.”

How it works

Bluetooth tracing in the NZ COVID Tracer app implements the Apple/Google Exposure Notification Framework, a secure protocol for transmitting Bluetooth data between devices. 

If you choose to enable Bluetooth tracing on your phone, it works by exchanging randomised ‘keys’ with other phones that are also using Bluetooth tracing. The keys do not include any information about who you are or where you were.

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. This involves uploading the ‘keys’ that their phone has broadcast since they became infectious. 

If your phone sees that one of the keys it has collected is listed in the notification, you’ll receive an alert together with advice on what you should do next to keep yourself and your whānau safe. The Ministry of Health will not know you have received an alert unless you choose to get in touch for information and advice. 

Privacy

“We need as many people as possible to use the app, so it’s incredibly important that New Zealanders know they can trust the app with their personal information,” Mr Hipkins said. 

“Maintaining privacy has been a top priority throughout the development of the NZ COVID Tracer app, and this doesn’t change with Bluetooth tracing. All the contact tracing information you collect with the app is held securely on your phone, and it’s always your choice what information you choose to share.

“The app has been endorsed by the Privacy Commissioner, and the Ministry of Health is releasing the source code so New Zealanders can see for themselves how their information is managed.”

Chris Hipkins said the Government recognised there are many New Zealanders who do not have access to a compatible smartphone. 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.”

Further information

NZ COVID Tracer will update automatically on around 10 December for most users, or it can be manually updated through the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store at that time. Bluetooth tracing will be turned off by default, but app users will be asked if they want to enable it when they next open the app.

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