The app touted as Australia’s “ticket” to reopening up the economy in the coronavirus’ early days has found just 17 new close contacts during the pandemic.
The COVIDSafe app has cost more than $9 million, the Australian Senate was told on Thursday, but appears to have only offered minor gains with contact tracers able to deliver most work manually.
Despite more than seven million smartphone users signing up for the app, and it being active for at least 792 people with coronavirus, it has so far identified 81 close contacts of infectious people.
Of them, contract tracers only discovered 17 close contacts thanks to the app that they weren’t able to identify through manual methods.
Early in the app’s rollout prime minister Scott Morrison called it the nation’s “ticket to a COVID-safe Australia”and urged people to download it to aid efforts to reopen the economy.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt said in a statement to the ABC that the app was a tool available for state and territory public health officials to use.
“It is their decision on how it is integrated into their contact tracing systems,” Hunt said.
The federal health department said in the NSW outbreak that state health officials advised the app was most useful where interviews had not identified contacts.
“It has not been necessary to use the COVIDSafe app with any recent cases in NSW in 2021,” the department said in the same statement.
The app did help in NSW earlier in the pandemic, according to the department, when it discovered an unrecognised exposure date from a known venue and led to more people getting tested, including two who had the virus.