The federal government’s much-maligned COVIDSafe app is costing at least $100,000 a month to continue to operate, despite having had limited utility as a means of contact tracing to date.
Digital Transformation Agency boss Randall Brugeaud told senate estimates last night that after entering a “business-as-usual state”, the app's infrastructure alone would cost $100,000 a month.
“COVIDSafe has moved into what we call the business-as-usual state and so we apply very small amounts of maintenance,” he said on Thursday.
“It costs about $100,000 per month to run the infrastructure, and we’ve made a provision for about $200,000 per month to allow us to make future changes.
“That isn’t money that must be spent, but we’ve estimated about $200,000 a month for future feature changes that may be required by the Department of Health.”
Brugeaud said this was on top of the $6.7 million that the app has already cost to date, the vast majority of which had gone towards development ($5.8 million).
Hosting – which is done through Amazon Web Services – had cost roughly $900,000 as at January 31, Brugeaud added.
In addition to AWS, Canberra-based tech first Delv, Boston Consulting Group and Melbourne-based AWS partner Shine Solutions have all had a hand in the app’s development.
The ongoing costs come despite the app’s limited use by contact tracing teams in the states and territories and the existence of other contact tracing methods such as QR code-based check-in apps.
Even with the recent Northern Beaches outbreak, NSW Health has only been able to identify 81 close contacts using the app to date. Of these 81 contact, only 17 were not identifed through other means.
But despite this, social services minister Anne Ruston defended the app, which she said had “served a purpose, whether it has served as much of a purpose as perhaps it might otherwise”
“I know it seems like a small number… but just think through 17 people gone undetected and what that might look like in terms of shutdowns,” she told senate estimates on Thursday.
“Even though it may seem like a small number, that could have a very significant impact on the health outcomes or the economic outcomes for our country.”
She also said that the “app was designed at a time when perhaps we though there were going to be a lot more cases”, before the government opted for the eradication approach that has resulted in very few cases.
Asked by Labor senator Nita Green whether there were any plans afoot to ditch the app given it had only found 17 unique cases, Brugeaud said that is a decision for the Department of Health.
“So that will be a discussion that will need to be had with Health and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee,” he said.
“Clearly Health, as the business owner, have the contact with the states and territories, who are the users of the capability.
“COVIDSafe was developed based on the health need and it will continue to be supported until we're advised that that capability is no longer required.”