Technology can play a crucial role in limiting the spread of the coronavirus in Australia. Government officials have acknowledged as much by directing the creation and implementation of an advanced app known as COVIDSafe. Designed for the exclusive purpose of hastening the process of contact tracing, this app could play a key role in the nation’s long-term approach to disease mitigation.

What Is Contact Tracing? Why Is It Important?

The Australian Department of Health refers to contact tracing as a “fundamental element of a public health response to a disease outbreak.” This important process involves the collection and analysis of data surrounding a given disease’s spread from one person to the next. During this effort, health officials strive to discover who is infected, how this person passes on the illness, and how such trends contribute to the pandemic’s reach over time.

Contact tracing allows officials to not only learn more about the disease but also to warn those who might be at risk based on who they’ve interacted with and under what circumstances. These individuals receive the support they need, including important information about how to proceed and navigate available resources.

Many of the nations that have seen the greatest success in their efforts to combat the pandemic have implemented contact tracing as a cornerstone of their overarching strategy. South Korea, for example, is often touted as a success story due to its comparatively low rates of infection, hospitalization, and death. The nation’s success has proven possible, in part, due to its extensive contact tracing procedures. With COVIDSafe, Australia hopes to emulate this effort — but on a purely voluntary basis.

How Does the COVIDSafe Improve Contact Tracing?

Australia’s COVIDSafe app is designed to speed up the process of contact tracing. Traditionally, this effort has proven time-consuming, as it has required manual protocol such as contacting infected individuals and following up with whom they have interacted. COVIDSafe aims to streamline all this by automatically gathering data whenever users interact with others who have downloaded the app.

On an individual level, COVIDSafe works by providing each user with an encrypted code after the app has been downloaded. From there, the app records information about interactions with fellow users. This includes the time and date of each contact, as well as the duration of the meeting and the distance between the app’s users. The app works best when allowed to run in the background during everyday functions.

Information collected by the app is encrypted and stored on the user’s phone. It is also regularly deleted based on the typical incubation period and time thought necessary for testing.

If an app user is eventually infected, previously collected information can be uploaded into a secure storage system. This hastens the necessary process of identifying and contacting those with whom the infected individual has interacted. Uploading only occurs with the user’s permission but can dramatically hasten the time needed to contact those potentially impacted by the disease.

What Will Happen With COVIDSafe After the Pandemic?

COVIDSafe may currently be a critical technology for limiting the spread of the coronavirus, but it won’t always be necessary. If the app accomplishes its ultimate goal of defeating the pandemic, it can be put to rest.

The Australian government has already made plans for COVIDSafe’s future, including the removal of all private information uploaded to the aforementioned storage system. Additionally, those who have downloaded the app will eventually be prompted to delete it.

Technological solutions such as COVIDSafe hold the potential to dramatically improve mitigation efforts. This powerful technology allows ordinary people to make a real difference in the effort to control the spread of the coronavirus. It could be the key to finally getting the pandemic under control.