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COVIDSafe app detected just 17 contacts after millions spent

9News.com.au logo 9News.com.au 27/10/2020 Jonathan Kearsley

The Prime Minister said the COVIDSafe app was protection, urging us to "download the app, put your sunscreen on equivalent". But it has been revealed almost $7 million has been spent on advertising and it has identified 17 contacts.

The app has been labelled "a failure" by Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen, "useless" by Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles.

"It hasn't delivered as much as we would've liked," Victoria's Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said.

a close up of a cell phone: The government's COVIDSafe app has been branded a failure. © 9News The government's COVIDSafe app has been branded a failure.

It was revealed during a Senate estimates hearing the app has only led to 17 contacts being identified who weren't picked up by manual tracers.

When the app was launched in April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was "your ticket, Australia's ticket to a COVIDSafe Australia".

Our televisions and social media lit up with glossy advertisements urging us to download the app, "so we can get back to the things we love".

Today, Caroline Edwards, the Associate Secretary of the Department of Health, revealed "the cost of COVIDSafe app-specific advertising in 2019-2020 was $6.95 million".

The app was launched in April, and the funding continued until the end of June, so the money was spent over two months.

The government had previously refused to release how much was specifically spent advertising the app.

text, letter: The app has had millions spent on its promotion, and millions of Australians signed up. © 9News The app has had millions spent on its promotion, and millions of Australians signed up.

More than seven million Australians have downloaded and registered the app, which cost about $5 million to develop and improve, taking the price tag to June to about $12 million.

"I've seen better value land deals at Badgery's Creek Airport than this contact tracing app," Mr Bowen said.

The government has no way of knowing how many Australians actively have the app on their devices right now, but it has fiercely defended it.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert told 9News "the app is performing exceptionally well".

With Melburnians no longer in lockdown from Wednesday, the government says the app will be more beneficial.

Victorian authorities are still urging Victorians to download it, but they're not so certain.

"It's made bluetooth connections for people across a wall, that's not a close contact for contact tracing purposes. It will identify someone who you end up realising wasn't a close contact," Professor Sutton told journalists today.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly told a Senate hearing: "My professional opinion is that the app is a very useful tool when used correctly and integrated into a well-functioning system of contact tracing."

The federal government says that wasn't happening in Victoria.

"They had a paper based system largely, and I think Victoria had come from not a large position in public health," Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said to the parliamentary hearing.

He said its much-talked-about contact tracing system has since improved.

"They now have a really good, mature contact tracing system where the app is now integrated into it," he said.

But the federal government says Victoria also stopped using the app for two weeks from July 16, as their case numbers soared.

"During that time, 6600-odd people were infected with COVID19," Mr Robert said.

There have been criticism of the app's functions, from bluetooth connectivity, to the 1.5 metre distance and 15-minute timeframe required to register a "ping", or close contact.

The app has gone through various updates, and Mr Robert told journalists COVIDSafe will stay and the government will not follow others by moving to the Apple/Google model.

"We're not going to outsource public health to large tech companies," he said.

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