The government’s much-hyped COVIDSafe contact-tracing app has led to the identification of just 14 cases of COVID-19, all of which were in New South Wales, the Department of Health has confirmed.
Despite Victoria being hardest hit by the virus, not a single case has been detected by the app in the state.
The Department of Health confirmed the numbers in response to a question on notice, from Senator Katy Gallagher, as part of the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19.
The app has seen some success in New South Wales, the response noted, where in one instance, it was used to discover a person’s date of exposure to the virus, from a known venue.
That instance resulted in the identification of 544 contacts, two of whom subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
All in all, app data has been used by health officials to identify 53 positive cases, who were close contacts of existing cases.
However, all but 14 of these had also been identified using manual contact tracing.
In Victoria, the picture looks considerably different, with the app not detecting a single positive case of the virus.
That’s despite the state having more than four times as many total COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and despite authorities apparently fully integrating the use of the app into its contact tracing processes.
Of the more than 20,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Victoria since the beginning of the pandemic, about 1,703 said they have the app downloaded.
In the response, the Department of Health partly put the lack of cases identified down to the ongoing strict lockdown in Melbourne, which means “there are limited close contacts of positive cases to be identified”.
“But app data is being used to validate close contacts identified through manual contact tracing processes,” it said.
In Queensland, the app was used to identify one close contact case. But, again, this person had already been identified through manual tracing.
There were no other successful cases of contact tracing through the app in any of the other states or territories. However, the Department of Health put this down to “small positive case numbers”.
The response noted that the data may be incomplete, as states and territories have not necessarily been routinely reporting on whether people diagnosed with COVID-19 have the app installed.
It also doesn’t take into account any app users who have declined to share their data.
But, even so, these numbers are laughably low, calling into question the effectiveness, and value for money, of the app, which was positioned as playing a big part in Australia’s COVID-19 response.
Back in April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison dangled downloading the app as something that could lead to an earlier lifting of restrictions.
But, six months and a second wave later, all talk — and all TV ads — about the app seems to have dried up.
According to a report from InnovationAus, almost $5 million has been spent on independent contracts for the development of the app so far. And, work is scheduled to be ongoing until February next year.
“The Department is currently consulting with jurisdictions on a framework to inform reporting on the operation and effectiveness of COVIDSafe and the National COVIDSafe Data Store,” the response said.