Coronavirus: Australians download COVIDSafe contact tracing app

One person views the Australian Government's new voluntary coronavirus tracking app

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Use of the new Australian government coronavirus tracking app “COVIDSafe” is voluntary, but ministers hope it will be downloaded widely

More than one million Australians have downloaded a coronavirus contact tracking app within hours of government release.

The COVIDSafe smartphone app uses a Bluetooth wireless signal to exchange a “digital handshake” with another user when they are within 1.5 m (4.9 feet).

The app then registers this contact and encrypts it.

Users will be notified if they have had more than 15 minutes of close contact with another user who is positive.

Australia has registered 6,694 confirmed coronavirus cases and 80 virus deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The rise in infections has slowed considerably in recent weeks, with only 16 new cases registered on Sunday.

The app – based on an introduction to Singapore – was released at 1800 local time on Sunday (0900 BST) and Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed the download data on Sunday evening.

“At 10:30 PM, 1 million Australians have now downloaded and registered for #COVIDSafeapp – please join us and help us protect ourselves, our families, but especially our nurses and doctors,” Hunt wrote on Twitter.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that social restrictions could be alleviated if enough people were using the app. The government said that for maximum effectiveness, about 40% of the population should dump it.

Among the privacy concerns of those who will have access to the app’s stored data, the government said that only state health authorities would qualify. The data will be stored in Australia and the health minister said that “not even a court order” would allow other authorities such as the police to access it.

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Media captionWATCH: What is the contact track and how does it work?

Protections have not yet been put into legislation, however, as the Australian Parliament does not meet regularly.

The app asks users to provide their age group, a mobile number, a postal code and a name, which can be a pseudonym.

The government has stated that all data will be deleted after 21 days or when someone deletes the app from their phone.

On Sunday, the Australian states of Queensland and Western Australia said they would relax the rules on social distancing this week to allow for wider outdoor gatherings, but the state of Victoria will continue with stricter curbs.

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