Australia launches COVID-19 app, WhatsApp chat

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Australia launches COVID-19 app, WhatsApp chat

But no contact tracing functionality, yet.

The federal government has launched an app and WhatsApp message service to provide Australians with information and advice about the fast changing coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the digital offerings on Sunday, two weeks after the government first committed $2.4 million towards building an app.

Canberra-based tech firm Delv has spent the last two weeks building the app, while Atlassian and Facebook have developed the WhatsApp message service.

Morrison said the app, which is available on both iOS and Android devices, was “a trusted place of advice and information” for citizens about COVID-19.

It builds on the new Australia.gov.au homepage released by the Digital Transformation Agency last week to help centralise information on the current coronavirus pandemic.

The app also allows individuals to register their self-isolation to improve the flow of information to the government and check their symptoms using a HealthDirect service.

But it is currently without any contact tracing functionality, though the government has begun investigating "digital methods" like Singapore's TraceTogether app for this.

"We're doing a lot of effective work there about how digital methods can be also used to assist in identifying contacts ... as was practised in Singapore," Morrison said last Tuesday.

"And so those delivery methods are also being looked at by the Commonwealth and we're making a lot of progress there."

The app, which has already been reviewed by the Department of Health according to the Australian Financial Review, was released by the Singapore Government last weekend.

It uses “bluetooth to identify other nearby phones with the app installed” to track when a person came into contact with COVID-19 and at what time the contact occurred, according to the Singapore Government,

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

Despite this, and the fact much of the app appears to redirect users to the Department of Health’s website, it has been largely well received, with more than 482,000 downloads on Sunday.

Users have rated the app 4.4 out of 5 on the Apple App Store and 3.5 out of 5 on the Google Play Store.

WhatsApp message service

In addition to the coronavirus app, the government has also worked with Atlassian and Facebook to create a WhatsApp message service to disseminate information. 

Morrison said the new service would allow the government to directly provide citizens with health advice, updates on lockdown measures and other accurate and timely information.

More than 291,000 people have now joined the group, with 1.25 million messages sent out on Sunday alone.

“New technology we’ve put in place today is going to help us as a country to get the messages and information we need to do the right thing to save lives and save livelihoods,” Morrison said.

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