Senate inquiry calls for gov to wind up COVIDSafe app

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Senate inquiry calls for gov to wind up COVIDSafe app

"Cease any further expenditure".

The federal government should cease all funding from its troubled COVIDSafe contact tracing app, a Labor-led senate committee has found.

The finding is contained in the final report from a senate inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, which has also called for greater data sharing between governments.

The report [pdf], released on Thursday afternoon, said COVIDSafe had been “roundly criticised for its high cost and significant limitations as a practical measure for contact tracing”.

It cites reports the app was not used by state governments during the Delta outbreak last year, and a study showing it detected only 17 contacts not identified through other means in NSW during 2020.

The committee said the government had also failed to provide an update on how many additional contacts had been identified and suggested it was a state government responsibility.

Other concerns raised during the inquiry went to the app’s “reliance on Bluetooth... as an effective proxy for close contacts” and “parameters that fail to account for Covid-19 variants”.

With its limited use since early on in the pandemic, and officials suggesting no update was forthcoming, the committee said the “future use of the COVIDSafe app appears uncertain”.

“By not recognising the app’s faults, or seeking to fix the app, the government has continued to oversee an application which is not fit for its intended purpose, has cost millions of dollars, and offered limited public value,” it said.

The committee has recommended the “government cease any further expenditure of public funds on the failed COVIDSafe application”.

Last week, the Department of Health told iTnews the government has “no plans to discontinue the app”, despite the fact the pandemic powers that initially governed it use will soon come to an end.

As at October, the app had cost more than $9 million, including $2.77 million in Amazon Web Services hosting costs. 

The monthly cost to operate COVIDSafe sits at between $75,000 and $60,000, down from $100,000 in early 2021.The Digital Transformation Agency has previously refused to release a breakdown of the costs.

The committee also recommended the government “review and strengthen the intergovernmental agreement on data sharing between Commonwealth and state and territory governments”.

It said that doing so would “address any gaps in access to timely and relevant data – particularly related to public health and aged care”.

The agreement, which aims to make more data available to all jurisdictions for the purposes of policy development and service delivery grounds, was only signed off on in July 2021.

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