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 Which is the bigger dud, COVIDsafe app, or government?

30.06.20. Typical government! More than 1,100 words to tell the people that the PM and his coterie of elected duds took us all for a ride. They used the power tool of fear to foist upon the population a salvation from the frightening COVID-19 blight via their app that was and still is virtually useless!
When it launched, COVIDSafe was marketed as Australia’s ticket out of lockdown, so long as everyone downloaded it. “If you want to go outside when the sun is shining, you have got to put sunscreen on. This is the same thing,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the time. Two months on, state and territory health departments are yet to declare the app has identified any people exposed to COVID-19 who weren’t already found by traditional contact tracers.

Source: ABC

COVIDSafe was ‘sunscreen’ for coronavirus, until it wasn’t. Have we chosen the right solution to the pandemic?

And as the app’s technical challenges have been revealed, public health experts are questioning whether the app is a distraction from the “real work” of controlling coronavirus.
It’s too early to provide a verdict, but it is common for technologies to be presented as “our knights in shining armour” during a pandemic, according to Julie Leask, a public health and infection disease specialist at Sydney University.
It’s human to see something we can hold, something that’s tangible, as more helpful than “the more invisible human behaviours and public health capacities that are still at the heart of our control of [COVID-19]”, she said.
A Health Department spokesperson said all its communications about COVIDSafe highlight the app as just one important tool in controlling COVID-19.
“Communication clearly places the app alongside the need for physical distancing, good hygiene and the importance of staying at home if unwell (and getting tested),” she said.
The risk of complacency
As the country faces a spike of cases in Victoria, some public health experts are concerned the Government’s comparison of the app to sunscreen could make Australians complacent,.
Often the hardest thing for people to change about their health is their behaviour, according to Adam Dunn, who leads biomedical informatics and digital health at the University of Sydney.
“It’s much easier to prescribe someone medication … then convince them to completely change their lifestyle,” he said.
While a simple technical solution to the coronavirus lockdown is an attractive idea, it’s not so easy.
Holly Seale, a senior lecturer at UNSW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said focusing on the app’s benefits to the individual may have raised expectations beyond what is technologically possible.
Instead, Dr Seale suggested public health campaigns should focus on its collective benefit to the contact tracing process.
“We’re so used to apps being able to tell us what’s happening to us individually. This app isn’t able to do that. But, collectively, this app’s information will be able to help those on the ground,” she said.
Today the “Stay COVID free and do the 3” catchphrase is used in advertisements, a Health Department spokesperson said, to encourage Australians to download the app as well as maintain hygiene and distancing.
And the Government is speaking about it less often. In the two weeks after launch, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison mentioned COVIDSafe in 14 press conferences, interviews and media releases that are transcribed on his website. He’s mentioned it just once in the past two weeks.
A technical solution to the coronavirus lockdown is an attractive narrative — and one both Government and many parts of the media ran with.
But Dr Leask said caution was necessary, especially as the public was presented with little evidence for the app’s effectiveness.
“As the saying goes, with every complex problem there’s a solution that’s simple, clear and usually wrong,” she said.
Modelling released today by the public health think tank the Sax Institute suggests a second wave of COVID-19 infections in Australia is likely if social distancing measures and testing decline.
The research found that in this scenario, the COVIDSafe app could help curb the number of infections.
But this modelling makes some assumptions: that uptake of the app reaches more 60 per cent of the Australian population, and that the app works as it is intended to.
Sax Institute senior simulation modeller Danielle Currie said that while COVIDSafe has not reached these targets yet, the modelling is reason for optimism.
“What our work shows is that using the app and promoting it widely is worthwhile, assuming that there are technological improvements. This should give the government confidence to continue its pushing,” she said.
Dr Currie said that the app could still prove to be helpful in places like Victoria where there are outbreaks.
“If there’s not many cases, the app won’t pick it up. But if we do get a lot — and the model suggests we might — it could be very helpful,” she said.
The other options
So could the time, millions of dollars and effort spent on COVIDSafe have been invested elsewhere instead, to better effect? There’s no one answer.
As a behavioural researcher, Dr Leask would like more funding for public health research — how to provide better messaging for communities where English is not their first language, for example.
And in Dr Dunn’s view, Australia would have benefited from more communication about contact tracers and the work they do, as well as more financial support for such teams overall.
For others, masks are the issue of the day. Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws, who advises the World Health Organisation, hopes Australian authorities implement firm guidelines on face masks, because currently the Government doesn’t recommend them.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) initially said healthy people did not need to wear masks but later revised its advice, recommending their use whenever social distancing was impossible.
“[The Government] should be telling people to wear a mask on public transport in or outside of hotspots. It really stands to reason that they should be enforcing masks in some situations,” Dr McLaws said.
Lidia Morawska, who is an expert in aerosol science at the Queensland University of Technology, is frustrated the potential airborne transmission of COVID-19 has been overlooked by authorities.
She makes the case for concrete guidelines on ventilation of high-traffic venues like restaurants, cafes and churches so people aren’t at risk from potentially infected particles lingering in the air.
If the café you’re sitting in for a few hours doesn’t know much about the science of air movement, which is pretty likely, this could be problematic, Dr Morawska said.
“We need investment in proper guidelines about ventilation to protect people indoors from infection transmission,” she said. “Researchers have been calling for this since SARS-CoV-1.”
There’s still much to learn about aerosol transmission of COVID-19. The WHO has acknowledged its danger in clinical settings, but is waiting for more peer-reviewed research to assess its risk in other environments.
In the end, Dr Leask believes Australia’s best solutions for controlling COVID-19 remain those that have proven their worth time and again.
“Looking back, you can’t beat good old-fashioned public health … when you don’t yet have a vaccine or a treatment that’s established as being really effective,” she said.
“Until we have those things, it is going to be public health capacity, having big contact tracing teams, having really convenient, well promoted testing.”

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • seadogger 30/06/2020, 6:00 am

    And the answer to your opening question you are correct on both accounts …BOTH ARE DUDS

    God Save Australia

  • Lorraine 30/06/2020, 8:29 am

    The media advises all those seeking employment will need to have the app on their phone, to obtain the job…..Funny thing is no one is looking for work until September. We are quite sure it does not work as we are required to print our name and telephone number in the dairy of the local bowls club time we came and the time we left. This is the rules

  • Steve 30/06/2020, 9:21 am

    What strikes me as completely laughable is the bullshit being sprouted across the globe. We have had many epidemics over the years. Most have died out under their own steam. Anthony Fauci, who the whole world of medicine should know of given his ties to the WHO & CDC, came out publicly a while back and stated that the incoming administration WILL encounter something like this.
    Every country knows these things so why the hell wasn’t any country prepared.
    I’m calling bullshit on every word from every level of Government regarding their back slapping heroic response to this crap. We are not fools, well except the 90% of West Australians that are patting McGowan on the back.
    This wreaks of something I read about a while ago called the Hegelian Model for Politics.

  • Botswana O'Hooligan 30/06/2020, 10:44 am

    Were the status quo to remain and people allowed to do what they normally do in the ‘flu season as in staying at home in bed if crook, keeping away from others sniffling and sneezing etc. the so called “herd” immunity would have taken effect. They shut the place down and guess what, an outbreak now they have opened things up so they will shut the joint down again, and then when they allow we peasants back on the street an outbreak will happen all over again. Common sense would indicate that no one could be that stupid so maybe Luki is right, there is a conspiracy afoot. As for the bloody app, blind Freddie could tell that it wouldn’t work, too many variables.

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