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Covid 19 coronavirus: Tiny number using tracer app in public

A snap Herald survey suggests most shoppers have given up signing in with the Covid app – adding to concern over official figures that show the country would now struggle to trace contacts during an outbreak.

The lack of tracer app use was obvious yesterday at one of New Zealand’s largest shopping malls, where only a handful of people scanned QR codes at two of its most popular stores.

A mere 13 out of 100 total people scanned in at Kmart and The Warehouse at Sylvia Park around midmorning – six and seven people respectively.

Data has revealed the number of daily scans on the tracer app has plummeted from its peak of 2.5 million in September to around 500,000 in recent weeks.

Public health expert Professor Nick Wilson says the scanning numbers “are problematic” and would make reacting to a community outbreak difficult.

Earlier director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield warned thatKiwis could not afford to get complacent when it comes to using the app.

“We’ve seen how quickly the virus can spread,” he said.

“We all have a responsibility to support contact tracing by keeping a record of our movements, either with the app or by another method such as a diary.

“When someone tests positive for Covid-19, the faster they can provide contact tracers with information about where they’ve been, the faster contact tracers can get ahead of the virus and break the chain of transmission.”

Several of those not scanning at Sylvia Park were from at-risk groups. Some were elderly, others were pregnant, and one woman was even wearing a face mask.

It is possible some who attended the stores did not have mobile phones or entered their activities manually.

Experts warn irregular use of the app would mean contact tracers wouldn’t able to do their job properly if an outbreak occurred today.

University of Auckland research fellow with Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures Dr Andrew Chen says it isn’t an ideal trend to follow.

“Keeping a record of where you have been is a preventable action and so waiting for there to be a community outbreak and then starting to scan is too late,” he said.

Yesterday afternoon, health officials announced there were seven new virus cases in managed isolation in the previous 48 hours.

The current climate has politicians and academics on a knife-edge.

“The chances of a community outbreak have never been greater,” Act leader David Seymour said this week. “This is an unacceptably dangerous situation.”

However, Wilson and Professor Michael Baker say the spotlight should be directed at the border rather than the rest of New Zealand.

Countries like the UK, US and South Africa where new strains of the virus ravage the community should be front of mind instead.

Each day close to 300 people are flying in from these countries and the “real obsession” should be with them until we get the vaccine, says Baker.

“Doing things with those 300 people instead of four to five million, you’ve got a much better chance of succeeding,” he said.

“They’re the people who should be using apps, sitting in hotels with light supervision and rapid testing when they check-in and before they get on the plane.

“Even if we had to pay for their five days in the hotel, that would be a good investment. It’s much more efficient to turn the tap off at the source.”

Wilson believes any issues with our fight against the virus will come either from our borders or from within managed isolation and quarantine.

“Probably the easiest thing to do is to put more focus on the border workers and returnees in quarantine using the app,” he said.

“Border workers should be mandated to have the Bluetooth-enabled part of the app working and that would help with outbreak control.

“Rather than risking closing down the whole economy, we should be learning from science and epidemiology for a more targeted approach.”

Although people should continue to use the tracer app, Baker says it’s lower down the pecking order in terms of layers of defence against the virus.

Tightening controls at the border and those flying to New Zealand is front of mind for him, followed by how well MIQ facilities are operating.

Rapid outbreak detection comes third, with Baker advising those feeling sick to stay home and get a Covid-19 test. Contact tracing comes fourth.

The Ministry of Health said that if there an outbreak occurred tomorrow, scanning would make contact tracing easier.

“Unfortunately numbers are below where we’d like to see them and that is potentially a reflection of the time of year or the fact there are no community cases in New Zealand.”

The Warehouse operations lead Ian Carter urged everyone to remember to sign in when they visit any of their stores.

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