New Zealand needs better alternative to Covid-19 tracing app in case of second wave, virus expert warns

One virus expert says New Zealand needs a better alternative to track cases of Covid-19 should the nation get community transmission cases.

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Michael Baker says the Government's planning for a second outbreak is "very sensible", but that we need "passive systems" rather than relying on people to scan QR codes. Source: Breakfast

While it has been 75 days since any community spread of Covid-19 in New Zealand, epidemologist and Otago University public health professor Michael Baker told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning that the uptake on governments' apps around the world haven't received good uptake.

He spoke after yesterday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern laid out the Government's plan for a second outbreak of the virus.

The country will move into regionalised lockdowns, with checkpoints, soldiers and door-to-door testing used to fight the spread of Covid-19 should a second wave hit.

Dr Baker this morning said it was "very sensible" to plan for resurgences of the pandemic, especially while looking at the rising cases in Victoria, Australia, which started from two quarantine breaches.

"We need what's called this multi-barrier approach where you have these backstop measures," he said.

"I think the plan is very sound, the one element we think there is missing in New Zealand is we think we need to have masks available for use if required. Every New Zealander now I think should have a mask and know when to use it and how to use it."

The Government has so far not recommended the use of widespread masks, instead eliminating the virus with intense lockdown measures.

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"Now when we're planning for outbreaks we need to use every tool available and if you look around the globe now masks are becoming a standard tool for stopping this virus because it's a respiratory virus," Mr Baker said.

When asked about the use of the Government’s NZ Covid Tracer app, he said "I think we need a different way".

"I think it was good as an interim measure, but it hasn't actually worked anywhere in the world, these apps that require a lot of human activity to make them work."

National Party leader Judith Collins also criticised the Government's tracing app yesterday, after having trouble working it herself.

"It just comes back with something like 'it's not available' or whatever," she said.

"If I'm having trouble with it, probably quite a few people are."

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The National leader says there’s probably an issue with the app if many people weren’t using it. Source: 1 NEWS

Ms Collins said there were "probably [issues] if people don’t want to use it [the app]".

Mr Baker said, "we need passive systems so that we don't depend on everyone getting it right all the time and I think when you haven't got circulating virus people can get complacent, which they shouldn't, but there are better alternatives that countries are switching too now."

Mr Baker discussed two types of "passive systems" - a smart card which everyone is given and carries with them, and tracking telecommunications and credit card transactions.

However, he also said there were privacy issues being worked through.

"I think we need to have that initial conversation to say 'what's the best technology given the level of threat?'

"I think we do need something because as we've seen how these outbreaks can spread very widely and you do need all the help you can get if you want to bring them under control."