'COVIDSafe' tracking app. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
'COVIDSafe' tracking app. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Grim warning for COVID-19 tracking app

New coronavirus cases would be slashed by more than half if the Australian Government's tracking app functioned as it was supposed to, according to new research.

As Victoria sparks fears it's headed for a second wave with 75 new cases reported yesterday, modelling from Sax Institute suggests technical issues with the COVIDSafe app are partly to blame for a resurgence of the infection.

Expanding on the modelling released by Sax Institute researchers, the report suggests a second wave of the virus is imminent if current restrictions are eased at the present rate.

It added the timing and scale of a second wave would depend on the rate of social distancing easing and the number of tests decreasing.

"At the app uptake level of approximately 27 per cent (current at 20 May 2020), with a monthly 50 per cent reduction in social distancing (i.e. the average number of contacts per day doubling over a month) and a 5 per cent decline in testing, the app would reduce the projected total number of new cases during April-December 2020 by one-quarter. If uptake reaches the possible maximum of 61 per cent, the reduction could be more than half," the report read.

Published in the Public Health Research & Practice, the modelling used evidence on factors including the speed and characteristics of the virus' spread to determine probable outcomes for case numbers based on various scenarios.

The standard scenario assumes the aforementioned 50 per cent monthly decline in social distancing and a 5 per cent monthly drop in testing intensity going forward.
"If 61 per cent of the population in this scenario downloaded the COVIDSafe app onto their phones, the number of infections in a second wave would be 55 per cent lower than if there were no app," the report added.

Sax Institute senior adviser Dr Michael Frommer said the model projections should be a wake up call for state and federal governments to push the app to the public and fix any bugs.
"Testing and social distancing will exert the biggest influence on controlling the curve of the second wave, but the tracking app can play a very important role," Dr Frommer said.
"At our current uptake levels, the app will help with contact tracing, but not significantly.

"What our work shows is that if we can push uptake to around three-fifths of the population, then it will make a huge difference. It would halve the number of people getting COVID-19 in the event of a second wave and decrease the death rate as well."

It comes after reports emerged the app was yet to help detect any close contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases that were not found through contact tracing.

In Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania the app failed to identify any close contacts that weren't detected by contact tracing, while in Queensland and Western Australia no confirmed cases had downloaded the app.

The national coronavirus tally currently sits at 7767 with Victorian health officials heading into a second day of door-knocking residents to undergo mandatory testing in a bid to stop the spread.


Originally published as Grim warning for COVID-19 tracking app

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