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The COVIDSafe app: 6 of your questions answered

On Sunday, April 26, the Australian Government launched a smartphone app called COVIDSafe, which aims to speed up the process of contacting people exposed to COVID-19.

According to the Department of Health website, COVIDSafe helps to increase the government’s confidence that it can find and contain COVID-19 outbreaks quickly. This means the government can be more comfortable easing restrictions while still keeping Australians safe and healthy.

You may have a lot of questions to ask about COVIDSafe. We’ve answered six of the most common below to help you get up to speed.

1. How do I get the COVIDSafe app?

To get the COVIDSafe app, you’ll need to download it to a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. Here are the steps to follow for both iPhone and Android phone users:

If you have an iPhone:

  • You will need a device running iOS version 10 and above. You can check your version by opening Settings > General > About > Software Version. If you have an earlier version than 10, you’ll need to update your phone at Settings > General > Software Update.
  • If your iPhone version is up to date, go to the App Store and search for “COVIDSafe”.
  • Tap “Install”.
  • Once installed, tap the COVIDSafe app and follow the instructions.

If you have an Android phone:

  • To run COVIDSafe on Android, you will need a device running Android 6.0 or higher. You can check your version of Android by opening Settings > About Phone > Android Version. If you have an earlier version than 6, open Settings > About Phone > Check for Updates > Update, and install the update.
  • If your Android version is up to date, go to the Google Play Store and search the store for “COVIDSafe”.
  • Tap “Install”.
  • Once installed, tap the COVIDSafe app to open and follow the instructions.

2. How does COVIDSafe work?

When you download the app to your smartphone, you supply your name, mobile number, postcode and age range. Next, you’ll receive a confirmation text message to complete the process. The system then creates a unique encrypted reference code just for you.

In addition to installing the app, you must also have your phone’s Bluetooth enabled at all times. You can enable Bluetooth by going to Settings > Bluetooth.

Once you’ve done that, simply open the app and your work is done. You can then go about your day as normal; the COVIDSafe app does everything it needs to do as it runs in the background on your phone.

When the app recognises that you’ve come in contact with someone else who has the COVIDSafe app running on their phone, it notes the date, distance and duration of the contact, as well as that user’s reference code.

3. What happens if I have the app and test positive for COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19, health officials will ask you who you’ve been in contact with. If you have COVIDSafe on your phone and give your permission, the encrypted contact information from the app will be uploaded to a highly secure information storage system. Health officials will then:

  • Use the contacts captured by the app to support their usual contact tracing endeavours
  • Call people to let them (or their parent / guardian) know they may have been exposed
  • Offer advice on next steps, including what to look out for; when, how and where to get tested; and what to do to protect friends and family from exposure.

4. Does COVIDSafe store my location?

The Department of Health website makes it clear that COVIDSafe does not store your location – it simply takes note of who you’ve been in contact with and notes the date, distance and duration.

Furthermore, the contact data it does collect is deleted on a 21-day rolling cycle, a period that takes into account the COVID-19 incubation period and the time it takes to get tested.

5. Does the app have to be running at all times?

Yes, the app needs to be running to be effective. This doesn’t mean it has to be visible on your screen at all times – it simply means you need to open the app and leave it running in the background. You can switch over to another app at any time and COVIDSafe will still work.

If you don’t open the app after downloading it, or if you decide to manually shut down the app, you’ll receive daily notifications reminding you to open the app and keep it running.

6. What if I still have privacy concerns?

The Australian Government has stressed that it has designed the app with privacy in mind.

“In terms of privacy, no person can access what is on the phone,” said Australian Minister for Health, Greg Hunt.

“It cannot leave the country. It cannot be accessed by anybody other than a state public health official. It cannot be used for any purpose other than the provision of the data for the purposes of finding people with whom you have been in close contact with and it is punishable by jail if there is a breach of that.”

If you have any concerns at all, you’re encouraged to read the COVIDSafe Privacy Policy for details on how personal information collected in the app is handled.

For further help and information regarding COVIDSafe, visit the COVIDSafe app help page.