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Tracer app gets Bluetooth

Paul Brislen, Editor. 09 December 2020, 7:24 am

The official COVID tracer app is getting a major upgrade with Bluetooth courtesy of the Google and Apple Exposure Notification Framework.

Version 3 of the app will be released tomorrow on both Apple and Google stores and the addition of Bluetooth is not intended to replace signing in to locations via the QR code diary, but rather enhance the capability should someone test positive in the community.

Bluetooth tracing - not tracking, which would imply an active monitoring of the user's location at all times - allows the user's device to record which other Bluetooth-enabled devices it has come into contact with. If one of those devices is carried by someone who tests positive, the system can alert all those devices to let them know to get tested and to isolate until they get the all clear.

The system doesn't store information in a central repository so users can be assured there is no state-level monitoring of their movements. In fact, anyone who does receive a notification of a positive result near them at some point won't know who that person was or where they were, just that they've been near someone with a positive result.

Not all residents in New Zealand have a mobile device that is capable of this kind of activity, so the Ministry of Health continues to urge everyone to record their own movements around the country. Usage of the app remains high - around 2.4 million Kiwis are using the app and the ministry estimates around 90% of those have a device that is capable of Bluetooth tracing - but not all scan in as often as they should. The hope is that by combining QR code self scan-ins with Bluetooth tracing, any outbreak can be swiftly identified and squashed.

The ministry continues to work on trials of the Bluetooth contact tracing card for those who don't have access to a smart phone and the recent trial in Ngongotaha, just outside Rotorua, saw more than 50% of locals sign up to be involved. The trial is looking at both the technology and its usability but also at user acceptance of, and willingness to use, a card that needs to be worn on a lanyard or carried in an external pocket.

The Exposure Notification Framework (ENF) developed jointly by Apple and Google is currently in use in 25 countries around the world and is only available to public health agencies.

Users who already have the app will be able to upgrade to the new version from Thursday.


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