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The Australian government launched a COVID-19 coronavirus tracking app on Sunday in an effort to curb the virus’ spread. 

The voluntary COVIDSafe app aims to speed up the current method of manually locating and contacting individuals who have been near someone with COVID-19. When two devices that have downloaded COVIDSafe are in close proximity to one another, the app remembers the users, date, time, distance and duration of contact.  

When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, they can permit health officials to view their encrypted contact information and use the captured contacts from the app to inform any relevant individuals that they may have been exposed. 

The app does not track location, and health officials will not reveal the identity of the infected person. 

As of midday Tuesday, more than 2.4 million Australians had downloaded the app, a figure Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said was “extraordinary.”

"In terms of our distancing measures, Australians continue to do an extraordinary job in what is a difficult situation," Hunt said, according to the Financial Review. "People have come together as a single Australian nation, as one single Australian family, and I want to thank them for their continued work.”

Ideally, the government would like 40% of the population — around 10 million people — to download the app. 

Similar measures have been used by other nations around the world. 

Australia’s COVIDSafe app has been partly shaped by Singapore’s tracking app, TraceTogether.

The United Kingdom has, likewise, announced its contact-tracing app is under works and should be rolled out next month. Unlike the Australian app, individuals in the UK can log flu-like symptoms in the app, which will then send a cautionary notification to those who have been in close contact. 

Similar digital-tracing tools are currently in place in Taiwan and South Korea

China, meanwhile, is now using a system of QR codes and colour-coded signals to help keep its citizens safe, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asked New Zealanders to keep a hard copy diary of all social interactions.

COVID-19 tracking apps have not been without criticism.

In the days after the COVIDSafe app launched, critics raised concerns around erosion of privacy and the government's ability to track its citizens. Despite Hunt sharing a determination under the Biosecurity Act to protect privacy and ensure access to the app’s data is only for the purpose of contact tracing, legal experts said more should be done. 

Graham Greenleaf, a professor of law and information systems at the University of New South Wales, said the measures should be put into legislation. 

"Legislation would be better than a non-disallowable instrument; but it is better than no law at all," Greenleaf told the ABC. "Legislation should be enacted by Parliament as soon as possible."

Australia is in its second month of strict coronavirus social distancing measures.

While measures vary between states and territories, people have been urged to work from home if possible and limit outings except for medical appointments, food shopping and daily exercise. The federal government is expected to update measures during a review of coronavirus restrictions on May 11.


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