Millions of Australians Download COVID-19 Tracing App

COVIDSafe alerts users if they've been in close, prolonged contact with a novel coronavirus patient.

The Australian Government launched its coronavirus tracing app on Sunday in hopes of reducing the spread of disease through early notification.

The platform, dubbed COVIDSafe, alerts folks if they’ve been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient, and over a million people have already downloaded it.

The app uses Bluetooth signals to perform a “digital handshake” when smartphone owners come within 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of each other (less than the mandated six feet of social distance). A phone doesn’t need to be unlocked for the app to work, and it works best if allowed to run in the background whenever venturing out.

COVIDSafe notifies users if they spend more than 15 minutes with someone who tests positive for the virus. So passing a neighbor on the sidewalk or even standing too near to a person in the supermarket line probably won’t register a response. But reminiscing with friends in their foyer might.

“Australians are doing an extraordinary job to flatten the curve and contain the spread of the coronavirus, but we cannot be complacent,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement. “The Chief Medical Officer’s advice is we need the COVIDSafe app as part of the plan to save lives and save livelihoods.”

Not everyone is thrilled with the voluntary program, though. As reported by Reuters, civil liberties groups have criticized the app as an invasion of privacy. The government, meanwhile, maintains that it encrypts all logged data and does not track location, ensuring COVIDSafe is, in fact, safe. “If you’d been exposed, you’d want to know, wouldn’t you?” Minister for Health Greg Hunt said, encouraging people to download the application. “This will be necessary if we are to start easing some of the difficult social distancing restrictions we have had to put in place.”

The app keeps contact information for 21 days—the maximum incubation period for COVID-19 and the time it takes for someone to be tested, according to Brendan Murphy, Australian chief medical officer. Once the pandemic is over, the app and all of its data will be permanently deleted. Australians can download COVIDSafe for iOS or Android.

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