News Coronavirus Glitch and privacy issues stall COVIDsafe as PM pushes for more downloads
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Glitch and privacy issues stall COVIDsafe as PM pushes for more downloads

Legislation has passed federal Parliament making it a crime to access coronavirus tracing app data without authorisation. Photo: AAP
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As downloads of COVIDSafe pass 4 million, it has been revealed the contact tracing app is being ironed out for glitches and privacy issues – and still hasn’t been turned on.

The federal government wants millions more people to register ahead of Friday’s national cabinet meeting on easing restrictions, with ministers suggesting more downloads would allow us to go to pubs and the footy.

But it has emerged a number of problems have delayed COVIDSafe becoming operational including the fact that officials who would be tracing the data don’t know how to use it.

State and territory IT teams are still working out how to handle and analyse the information collected from virus outbreaks after the commonwealth passes on the material.

Amid reservations about the tracing app’s potential to compromise privacy, it has also been reported that the government is still working out the guidelines on what information can be accessed.

There are also concerns about a glitch, which was raised by Diabetes Australia, in which COVIDSafe appears to interfere with vital diabetes-monitoring apps.

***Important information for CGM Users***No need to panic! We have received reports from a number of people with…

Posted by Diabetes Australia on Wednesday, April 29, 2020

As the problems are ironed out, the much-spruiked app designed to ‘keep Australians safe’ from coronavirus has not yet gone live, the government has conceded.

A Health Department spokesman confirmed to the ABC: “The rules on privacy are being finalised, along with final IT testing.”

“The system will be operational next week, ahead of the decision on possible easing of restrictions.”

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd admitted there had been a delay in health officials being able to access the data.

“This [the app] has been implemented very quickly,” he said.

“What we’re doing is making sure that the operations are going to work appropriately and safely, but also [making] sure that the people in the contact-tracing facilities in the states and territories are trained on how to use the app, and how to use it appropriately.”

“But the important thing is that if people have downloaded the app and they have it running in the background on their phone, it’s already gathering details of people you’ve been in close contact with.

“There’s a delay from now until when the contact tracer in the state or territory where you are based has activated the system.”

The app, which aims to speed up the process of identifying individuals exposed to COVID-19, uses Bluetooth to determine whether you have been in contact with infected people.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stressed that the app is “vital” to getting Australia back to a certain level of normality.

Asked recently when lockdown restrictions would be eased and pubs allowed to open, Mr Morrison suggested that widespread downloading of the app would be the first step.

“If that isn’t an incentive for Australians to download COVIDSafe on a Friday, I don’t know what is,” he said.

Stem cell trial

A stem cell treatment that appears to get coronavirus patients off ventilators will be trialled by Sydney’s Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

The treatment has been explored at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital where nine out of 12 patients administered with stem cells came off a ventilator in just 10 days

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute executive director Professor Jason Kovacic said the institute would work on a local clinical trial.

“These stem cells were trialled extensively for patients with cardiac diseases and the beauty of them is it is an off-the-shelf therapy, the stem cells can be administered to any patient and have substantial effects on changing the course of inflammation and the immune response,” Prof Kovacic told the Sunday Telegraph.

Prof Kovacic says the treatment could help avert higher mortality among COVID-19 patients with pre-existing cardiovascular illness.

Virus count

Just under 6800 virus cases have been reported across the country, with the death toll standing at 93 – extremely low by international standards.

Three states and the ACT now have less than 50 active cases each, with Western Australia and South continuing to record no fresh infections.

In NSW where massive testing is underway, Saturday’s tally of virus carriers was just five.

In Queensland and the Northern Territory, fishing tackle and Eskys came out of hibernation with the easing of restrictions, although the edict to keep 1.5 metres distance remains in effect.

Prue Chuenchom and Alexis Butson sunbaking at Burleigh.ABC News: Jennifer Huxley

However the situation in Victoria has been labelled “fragile” after an outbreak at a Melbourne meat processing facility.

Seven new cases were announced on Saturday, three of which were linked to the meatworks where eight people had tested positive for COVID-19.

Health minister Jenny Mikakos said the coronavirus emergency was still “incredibly fragile”.

She would not identify the meat facility but said there were no concerns about food safety or risk to the community.

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said the meat company was implementing all appropriate public health measures, including a thorough cleaning process.

A paramedic is also among the latest seven confirmed cases and is recovering in isolation while five colleagues are in isolation as a precaution.

Moving Newmarch House residents

Anglicare’s chief executive says the organisation will raise the possibility of extracting residents from its western Sydney aged care home at the centre of a COVID-19 cluster.

There have been 61 cases and 13 deaths related to transmission at the aged care home and infections rose again on Saturday with two more staff testing positive.

Anglicare Sydney chief executive Grant Millard said “it would seem that’s fairly obvious that there have been failings”.

“The use of PPE (personal protective equipment) is foreign to a lot of people,” Mr Millard told Seven News on Saturday.

When asked whether there would come a point where Anglicare would decide to remove some residents from the aged care home, Mr Millard said the option would be brought up with those living at Newmarch House.

“In small numbers to date that we’ve had discussions and this is something that we’re going to raise with residents in our communication shortly,” Mr Millard said.

Flight Centre cancellation fees

There was good news for would-be travellers forced to cancel trips because of the virtual shutdown of the airline industry.

Flight Centre, which had been charging a cancellation penalty of $300 per person for international flights and $50 for domestic flights, will no longer do so after drawing the ire of customers and regulators.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which had threatened court action against Flight Centre welcomed the move which followed weeks of pressure to reverse its fees.

The new policy will be applied retrospectively to bookings cancelled due to COVID-19 on or after March 13, 2020.

-with AAP