The Australian government on Sunday launched a voluntary, though controversial, mobile phone application for tracing users' whereabouts and alerting them if they have come into contact with someone diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
Called COVIDSafe, the app is based on Singapore's TraceTogether contact-tracing app and uses Bluetooth to detect and record other nearby phones that also have the app installed.
The software will keep an encrypted record of the time, date, distance and duration of any close contact with other app users. Geolocation will not be recorded and data will only be accessible to relevant health authorities if the user has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
At a press conference announcing the launch, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the app is intended to "protect our nurses and our families, friends and ourselves, by providing early notification if we have been in contact with somebody who may have been diagnosed as positive with coronavirus."
"There are over 500 cases (of COVID-19) in Australia where we never found the original source (of infection). It may be that two people have been standing in a line and one of them had accidentally been a little bit close. It may have been on public transport," Hunt said.
Australia, which acted early in closing its borders and enforcing social distancing measures, has been relatively successful in controlling the spread of coronavirus. However, authorities remain cautious about a second wave of infections.
"We are winning, but we have not yet won," Hunt said.
The government previously stated that roughly 40 percent of Australians need to download the app in order for it to be effective.
Nevertheless, concerns about the privacy of those using the app have be raised.
"Australians will only download the app if they have confidence that their privacy will be protected," Sen. Kristina Kenneally of the opposition Labor party said Sunday on Australian Broadcasting Corp.
At the app's launch, the health minister said it is prohibited by law for unauthorized individuals to access data stored in the app, which will be automatically deleted after 21 days.
Australia has confirmed 6,711 cases of COVID-19 and recorded 83 deaths.
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