The federal government has no immediate plans to ditch its troubled COVIDSafe contact tracing app, even as the emergency pandemic powers that initially governed its operation come to an end.
As governments forge ahead with a “normalisation” agenda, health minister Greg Hunt last week announced the biosecurity determination that has been in place since 2020 will lapse on April 17, 2022.
At that time, international travellers entering Australia will no longer need to provide a negative test before departure, though will still be expected to be double-vaxxed against the virus.
“The country is ready to move on from the emergency declaration made two years and one month ago, which will be the case by April 17,” Hunt said during a press conference on Friday.
But the end of the restrictions will have no bearing on the COVIDSafe app, which had been supported by a biosecurity determination until the arrival of the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Act in mid-May 2020.
In response to questions following the announcement, a Department of Health spokesperson told iTnews the “government has no plans to discontinue the app at this time”.
“No changes are currently planned to the operation of the COVIDSafe contract tracing app following the lapse of the determination made under the Biosecurity Act 2015,” the spokesperson said.
“COVIDSafe data held in the national COVIDSafe data store is protected by amendments made to the Privacy Act 1988.”
The health minister has the power to discontinue the app, and delete the data, when it is no longer “required” or “likely to be effective” in preventing or controlling Covid-19.
Any decision is subject to advice from the chief medical officer or the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
The absence of an end date means the COVIDSafe app is set to continue at a cost of $60,000 a month to operate despite its dwindling use.
As at September 2021, the app had cost more than $9 million despite not being used during the Delta lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT in the second half of last year.
Contract tracing has been rolled back significantly in recent weeks, with states no longer requiring that residents to check-in venues using QR code apps except in certain situations.