The lie by a pizza worker that sent South Australia into a strict lockdown last week could potentially have been avoided if contact tracers had easy access to financial transactions at COVID-19 hotspots.
The pizza worker initially told contact tracers he had bought a takeaway pizza from the store and authorities feared that was how he contracted COVID-19. However, it was later revealed he had been in close contact with an infected co-worker at the store.
The case raises the issue of whether contact tracers should be able to access financial transaction data.
How fintech could be used
Contact tracers could be able to track a customer’s details through a point of sale (POS) system.
Information provided by an infected customer can be easily verified with financial technology. If cash was used in a purchase, further investigation may be warranted.
Good POS systems could also reveal the staff member that served the infected person.
Integrated payments systems connect to accounting, so contact tracers could then access details about who worked at a business and when.
In the case of a super-spreader, following their transaction history would reveal what businesses they frequented while infected with COVID-19.
The pizza worker’s lie also resulted in a public health alert, urging anyone who ordered food from, or attended the pizza bar over a ten-day period to immediately isolate and seek a coronavirus test.
Contact tracers could be given access to a shop’s transaction history, to notify customers about potential exposure.
Privacy a top concern
The November National Contact Tracing Review, chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, found the use of digital technology will be critical in responding to virus outbreaks.
The review recommended the development of arrangements with payment providers so contact tracers will be able to request contact details of people who have made a transaction at a hotspot venue.
“Privacy rules will apply and in some jurisdictions legislative change may be required,” the review said.
Balancing public health with an individual’s right to privacy will be essential if financial technology is used to trace those potentially exposed to COVID-19.
Clear and transparent policies and procedures will need to be in place.
Authorities will need to ensure the personal information cannot be compromised and will only be used for contact tracing.
Most POS systems use privacy protections, such as encryptions and two-factor authentication, to ensure personal information is secure.
If this data is to be used for contact tracing, members of the public should be made aware before they enter a financial transaction with a business.
The use of financial technology in contact tracing will complement the rollout of quick response (QR) codes at venues across the country. When people attend a venue, a QR code records their name and contact details so they can be traced if there is a virus transmission risk.
South Korea is at the forefront of contact tracing and uses credit card transactions to help track people potentially exposed to COVID-19. Australia has recorded more than 27,000 cases, while South Korea (with double the population) has recorded about 30,000 cases.
It is estimated Adelaide’s three-day strict lockdown cost the economy tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars.