COVIDSafe uses the Herald Protocol to improve app performance

19 December 2020

Today’s COVIDSafe update introduces the new Herald Protocol to improve the capture of close contacts.

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The introduction of the Herald Protocol will continue the improvements we have made to how COVIDSafe captures close contacts. It is an important tool to prevent another lockdown, as we prepare to go back to work in COVID-safe environments, travel to see families and friends at Christmas, and get the economy moving again.

COVIDSafe supports Australia’s efforts to reopen internal borders by Christmas. It works alongside good hygiene, physical distancing and testing if you have symptoms.

You can use the app when you are moving around, wherever you find yourself in Australia. We encourage everybody to download, use and update to the latest version of the app to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

Update details

The Herald Protocol

The Herald Protocol improves the way COVIDSafe captures close contacts. It introduces new techniques that provide reliable Bluetooth communication across a wide range of devices. These techniques provide improved Bluetooth communication between devices in real world scenarios – even when your phone is locked or the COVIDSafe app is in the ‘background’. The Herald Protocol will give COVIDSafe more regular and accurate information on close contacts, which in turn helps State and Territory contact tracers.

Herald allows COVIDSafe to perform better without changing the information COVIDSafe collects and uses. Find out more on how COVIDSafe stores information.  

For more information about COVIDSafe, Herald or the technology behind the app, including the source code, visit covidsafe.gov.au.

Our approach to digital contact tracing

Australia has taken a public health-centred approach to COVID-19 contact tracing, leveraging our strong public health systems. This keeps State and Territory health officials at the centre of our world-leading contact tracing process.

Our trained and qualified health officials provide expert, tailored advice and reassurance directly to people who’ve been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. The health officials help them to navigate next steps such as self-isolation and getting tested. This approach has seen health officials successfully manage the spread of COVID-19 in Australia, and the Herald-enabled COVIDSafe app will better assist them to confirm close contacts they need to follow up.

The Herald-enabled COVIDSafe system is a critical part of successfully managing the pandemic. It is designed to provide health officials with the right data to analyse clusters and identify hot spots, respond to outbreaks, and trace the source of infection for all confirmed cases. Health officials can also use COVIDSafe to assist people to recall their interactions over the previous two weeks.     

It is important that Australia’s digital contact tracing solution supports our contact tracing process and provides the information our health officials need. The Herald-enabled COVIDSafe system does this. It works with existing state and territory health practices to provide a full contact tracing solution to complement manual processes. Its design has been based on the advice of Australia’s leading medical and public health experts.

There are other digital responses to COVID-19 such as the Exposure Notification Framework (ENF) that was developed by Apple and Google. COVIDSafe and the ENF were designed to support health officials in different ways. The ENF, as the name suggests, focuses primarily on notifying individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. COVIDSafe is designed primarily to assist health officials to personally contact at-risk individuals. It also provides health officials with the relevant data they need to contain the virus, such as the source of infection for positive cases. This approach is one of the reasons why we have been able to successfully manage the spread of COVID-19.

We have worked closely with Google and Apple as we developed COVIDSafe, and they developed the ENF. We are grateful to Apple and Google for their support of the Australian Government’s approach to public health-centred digital contact tracing, and for assisting us in making COVIDSafe the best solution for Australia.  

A Herald-enabled COVIDSafe plays a key role in Australia’s continued COVID-19 response. Herald will support Australia's contact tracers with the information they need to maintain our world leading contact tracing processes.

Your strong privacy protections are retained with Herald

It is important to note that we will not collect any new information from you, or use your information in a different way with Herald than we do with COVIDSafe now. You can be confident that your privacy and security are and will continue to be protected. The Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Act 2020 gives you unprecedented privacy protection. You can find out more about how we handle your information in the COVIDSafe privacy policy.

Allowing Access to Location Services

iOS users are strongly encouraged to provide permission for COVIDSafe to access Location Services on their device for Herald to work effectively when COVIDSafe is in the background. COVIDSafe needs to access Location Services because of the way the iOS operating system manages permissions.

Even though COVIDSafe uses the Location Services feature on Android and now iOS devices, it does not track your location.

When you update or install COVIDSafe, the app will ask you to let COVIDSafe access Location Services. If you are an existing Android user, you have already provided COVIDSafe with access to Location Services, because it is Google technical requirement for apps that use Bluetooth. This requirement has now been extended to iOS users. Again, we will not track or record your location.

Source code update and next release

Herald is a new protocol, and is not related to the previous protocol used in the United Kingdom’s NHSx app. We have released the application source code in line with today’s announcement and encourage review and feedback within the source code repository.

We would like to thank the tech community for their feedback on the source code for this latest update. We have addressed several issues identified and incorporated fixes to support the successful integration of the Herald Protocol into COVIDSafe.

We are currently working on the next update to the COVIDSafe app, which we plan to release in a couple of weeks.

Visit the COVIDSafe website for more information.

For media enquiries email us at media@dta.gov.au

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