Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to rule out making it mandatory for Australians to download and use a controversial tracking app to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Mr Morrison said at least 40 per cent of the population would need to use the app – which is under development – to make it effective.
“My preference is to give Australians a go at getting it right,” he told Triple M on Friday.
“That’s my plan A and I really want plan A to work.”
The TraceTogether mobile phone app would help with better contact tracing – one of three main benchmarks the government wants to meet before strict coronavirus restrictions can be lifted.
The others are a broader testing regime and a greater capacity to quash local outbreaks.
The tracking app is based on one from Singapore, which tracks people’s movements with Bluetooth.
However, even in Singapore – considered a more compliant society than Australia’s – only 20 per cent of citizens have agreed to share their mobile phone data.
Mr Morrison has likened using the app to national service.
“I know this would be something they might not normally do at an ordinary time but this is not an ordinary time,” he said.
“If you download this app, you’ll be helping save someone’s life.”
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Mr Morrison said the app would not be used by police as evidence to prosecute people for breaching social distancing requirements.
Privacy issues are being worked through before an opt-in app is launched, probably within two weeks.
The minister responsible, Stuart Robert, has told Channel 7 that information gathered by the app would be transferred to a database only if the person who tests positive to COVID-19 agrees.
“If you tested positive, the authorities would ask you to consent and that will be uploaded to a secure server,” he said.
“That’s it, no one is tracking you, there is no surveillance.”
Later on Friday, deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said TraceTogether would be a crucial and timely extra piece to the puzzle of contact tracing.
“If we could all do this and everyone had the app on their phones, then this would certainly make this experience much easier,” he said.
“It would allow us to really consider releasing those social distancing measures that we have had in place.
“I’ve always been a believer in the Australian people making the right decision, so I think the voluntary approach at first is the way to go.”
But Labor leader Anthony Albanese – who found out about the app through the media – said it was up to the government to better explain it.
Also on Friday, Mr Morrison accused a Tasmanian aged-care worker of lying about who they had been in contact with – as the state grapples with a cluster of coronavirus cases.
He said the case was a classic example of why a tracking app would be so important.
“We’ve had someone down there not tell the truth to the contact tracers about where they’d been and who they’d been with, and that means that a lot of people have been put at risk in north-west Tasmania,” he said.
“This has been very unhelpful.”
The worker has exposed three aged-care homes to the deadly virus. Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has since flagged tougher restrictions for the state.
Elsewhere, Victoria recorded just a one new case of coronavirus overnight on Thursday – prompting Premier Daniel Andrews to hint at a deadline for COVID-19 restrictions.
“We are a day closer to the other side of this virus, a day closer to potentially lifting these rules,” he said.
He said the state would boost “detective work and boost our testing” before any easing of virus regulations.
“The last thing Victoria will agree to is anything that will jeopardise the progress we have made,” he said.
“If we can relax restrictions in certain areas safely, and the reward far exceeds, the risk – then that’s what we will do.”
In NSW, the news was less good. Health authorities confirmed 29 new virus infections – an increase of more than double Thursday’s cases, although that was likely partly due to increased testing.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said there had been 15 new infections at Anglicare’s Newmarch aged-care facility. Thirty of the home’s staff and residents have now tested positive for the coronavirus.
A seven-week-old boy is also among the new infections in NSW.
Queensland had six new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing its total to 1007.