COVIDSafe app set for technology changes

The CovidSafe app is being updated with a Bluetooth protocol to improve its tracing of contacts.
The CovidSafe app is being updated with a Bluetooth protocol to improve its tracing of contacts.

The coronavirus tracing app will receive a major upgrade to better identify close contacts after coming under fire for its track record.

The overhaul will incorporate a new Bluetooth protocol called Herald to improve performance and help better identify potential close contacts.

The update is mooted to boost contact tracing capability, integrated with state and territory health authorities.

The code for the update will be made publicly available on Github to allow feedback to be provided before it is released for Apple and Google devices.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the code would also be made available internationally so other countries could use it.

"Australia's technology capability and contact tracing systems are world-leading," he said on Monday.

"We will be the first country in the world to adopt the Herald Bluetooth protocol, which has been shown to significantly improve our capability through the COVIDSafe App."

Federal officials last month told Senate estimates the app had identified just 17 people not picked up through manual contact tracing.

Labor's health spokesman Chris Bowen said the app had delivered "bugger all" over the past six months.

"After months of arrogantly telling us the COVIDSafe app was working just fine, and rejecting all suggestions for improvements, now the Morrison government is starting again," he said.

The upgrade is expected to work on more than 96 per cent of Apple and Android phones.

The federal government is also launching a new advertising campaign to remind people to maintain safe behaviour as restrictions lift in the run up to Christmas.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said it would be an important reminder about protecting people and their families against coronavirus infection.

"The government is reinforcing the message not to be complacent in regards to the risks of spreading COVID-19 and how to stay safe, including having the app on your phone," Mr Hunt said.

Australian Associated Press