COVIDSafe helps slow the spread of COVID-19

25 August 2020

The Government launched COVIDSafe on 26 April 2020 as Australia first grappled with the coronavirus pandemic. Now, 4 months on, the contact tracing app continues to make a difference. With over 7 million registrations of the app, hundreds of additional contacts have been identified.

COVIDSafe is an important and effective public health initiative. Since its launch, it has been an important tool helping to keep Australians safe from further spread of coronavirus. With over 7 million registrations, it has had one of the fastest per capita take-up rates in the world.

In New South Wales, COVIDSafe has identified more than 560 close contacts that were not picked up by the manual contact tracing process. Of these, 2 contacts were later diagnosed with the virus. Every contact identified makes a significant difference in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

How we have developed COVIDSafe

During April, as the government worked to respond to the rapidly changing pandemic, the DTA and our industry partners developed and launched COVIDSafe in just 3 weeks. Since then, the DTA has continually improved the COVIDSafe app and the Health Portal used by state and territory Health Officials.

Over the last 4 months we have updated the app 10 times. We have responded to 27,000 pieces of feedback from users and health officials, and have addressed over 30 issues and improvements suggested by members of the tech community. Together we have improved accessibility, reliability, security and usability.

We have developed COVIDSafe openly and transparently. The COVIDSafe source code was released on Github on 8 May 2020 and has been reviewed by industry, academics and cyber security experts. We continue to welcome feedback directly through GitHub and email.

Performance

We have made several changes to continually improve COVIDSafe’s Bluetooth performance for some iOS devices.

On 26 May 2020 we added code from the United Kingdom’s National Health Service app, NHSX, and Singapore’s TraceTogether app. On 3 August 2020, we resolved an iOS connection issue that the tech community raised related to digital handshakes, further enhancing Bluetooth reliability and performance. We also continue to work with Apple and Google to identify more Bluetooth enhancements. These changes have made a significant improvement to COVIDSafe’s Bluetooth performance on all mobile devices.

COVIDSafe is a system

COVIDSafe is more than the app. It is a system that includes the app and also the Health Portal state and territory health officials use to identify close contacts. You can find more information on how the COVIDSafe system works on the COVIDSafe website.

The app and the Health Portal work together to help health officials capture, identify and notify close contacts. The app captures digital handshakes between devices, while the Health Portal identifies and provides an assessment of close contacts based on this data.

These components working together are a distinguishing feature of the Australian COVIDSafe system. It means that Health Officials can more effectively and more rapidly undertake their contact tracing processes.

Accessibility and availability

COVIDSafe works better when more people use it.

We have prioritised the accessibility of COVIDSafe so more Australians can download and use it. We are proud that Vision Australia has confirmed that it complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA, meeting the accessibility needs for many people.

The app now supports 98 per cent of Android users (5.0 and above) and 95 per cent of iPhone users (iOS 10 and above). It uses less than 1MB of data per day and does not need to be connected continuously to the internet to work. It does need to connect occasionally to retrieve new temporary IDs from the server.

We have translated the app and help topics into 9 languages including Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Turkish and Vietnamese – and on the COVIDSafe website, the user guide is translated into in 63 languages.

A suite of accessible online resources is available to assist people with disability to download and use the app. These include user guides and posters translated into 63 languages, videos with closed captioning and audio voiceovers, and online resources with simplified content. The Council for Intellectual Disability has also created an easy read guide and video on the app for people with cognitive disabilities.

Security and privacy

The security and privacy of users and their data is paramount to us. We use end-to-end encryption of digital handshake information to securely encrypt all information and protect user privacy.

We have also made changes to stop hackers and criminals from exploiting Bluetooth, such as by using a beacon to crash the app.

The App only asks for the minimum possible information upon registration, and has no way of knowing your location.

We built COVIDSafe with privacy at its core by design. We will continue to ensure the highest level of security possible. Cyber experts, academics, and research organisations have confirmed COVIDSafe is one of the most secure contact-tracing apps in the world.

On 15 May 2020, the Australian Parliament passed the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Act 2020 (the Act), granting unprecedented privacy protections for COVIDSafe.

The Privacy Impact Assessment is available which describes COVIDSafe’s compliance with the Privacy Act 1988 and the Australian Privacy Principles. You can also access the Department of Health’s response to the assessment. Email us for more information on the privacy of COVIDSafe.

How you can help

We want as many Australians as possible to download and use the app. We know the more people are using the app, the more effective it is. It is free to download on iOS or Android devices.

Once you have downloaded the app, make sure it is active in public places and remember to regularly update the app to the latest version.

Visit www.covidsafe.gov.au for more information.

For media enquiries email us at media@dta.gov.au or call 0438 156 883

For other enquiries email us at info@dta.gov.au