Australia bets on phone tracking app in coronavirus fight

The TraceTogether has been available in Singapore since 20 March with limited success

Australia will bet on a phone tracking app in its coronavirus fight, news wires reported. PM Scott Morrison urged citizens to download the TraceTogether app in order to help the government to track their movements and stop the coronavirus spread. As the app was strongly criticised by civil liberties groups as an invasion of privacy, the PM pointed out it would initially be voluntary.

However, he declined to rule out making use of the app compulsory, stressing the ability to detect potential new outbreaks would be a key part of giving officials the confidence to begin winding back strict “social distancing” measures. “I will be calling on Australians to do it, frankly, as a matter of national service,” Morrison said. “This would be something they might not normally do in an ordinary time, but this is not an ordinary time. If you download this app, you’ll be helping to save someone’s life.”

The government is planning to roll out the app within the next two weeks after finalising legal issues around privacy, Morrison said. The TraceTogether app has been available in Singapore since March 20, but its success has been limited with less than one in five downloading the app, the city state’s government said earlier this month.

Australia has so far avoided the high numbers of coronavirus casualties reported around the world after closing its borders and imposing restrictions on public movement. Restaurants, bars and other “non-essential” businesses have closed and public gatherings of more than two people are banned under the threat of fines and even prison.

Morrison said this week that all social distancing measures will remain in place for at least another four weeks, and some would likely remain for up to a year. Any easing of the current limitations would not occur until Australia had increased testing capacity, strengthened contact tracing and readied local responses for further outbreaks, he said. The smartphone app would be key to improving contact tracing by detecting whether people had spent more than 15 minutes with others who may have been infected.

The daily growth rate of reported new infections has steadied in the low percentage single digits, or fewer than 50 per day, from about 25% several weeks ago. The country’s most populous states reported 43 new cases on Friday, taking the total to 6,522, while the death toll rose by two to 65.

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