Victoria moves to single QR code COVID-19 check-in system amid concerns about compliance

It wasn’t until Rachelle Connor left Victoria and returned that she started to become worried about how QR codes were used in her home state.

At the first restaurant they visited after arriving in Western Australia, Ms Connor and her family were asked to download the SafeWA app before scanning into the venue.

“That’s how diligent they are,” she said.

It was one of the first times she had been told she would not be allowed into a venue without showing proof of her checking in.

“It’s just everywhere, people are doing it and people are complying,” she said.

“And it just struck us that after being in Victoria, where we’ve had so many cases, to go to a state that has had barely any cases, and everyone is still scanning to go into any sort of shop or any outlet was just extraordinary.”

Ms Connor, a council worker, said she had written to businesses since returning home “and I was told that it’s not mandatory in Victoria”.

Most venues, including hospitality, sport facilities, gyms, religious sites, community venues, entertainment venues, real estate inspections, museums, nightclubs, gaming, accommodation and beauty services, are all required to use a QR code system.

Supermarkets, retail and shopping centres are “highly recommended” to use the service.

The results of a recent survey released by the government found only 41 per cent of visitors to hospitality venues checked in every time.

Authorised officers visited a range of venues between April 30 and May 2 and issued warnings or notices about a lack of compliance with the system.

Health Minister Martin Foley said there had been “declining levels of compliance with the kind of measures we need to stay safe and stay open”.

The use of QR codes for contact tracing is in the spotlight after New South Wales authorities praised a couple at the centre of the outbreak for using the state’s system.

Nancy Baxter, head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, said the QR codes were “really helpful” if everyone was using them.

The data collected through the QR codes can work faster than the “deep detective work” of contact tracers, meaning potentially infected people isolate sooner.

But Professor Baxter said their usefulness depended on their uptake.

“Even myself, I try to be vigilant about it, but just recently, I couldn’t seem to get the system to work. Did I persist? No, honestly … and I don’t think I’m unique,” she said.

The government has today announced small-to-medium-sized businesses will have patron caps lifted from May 28.

Venues that are 400 square metres or below will be able to have up to 200 patrons per space — such as a dining room or band room — with the previous rule of one person per 2 square metres removed.

They must use the government’s Service Victoria app and have COVID marshals in place to ensure people are checking in to each space.

Mr Foley said the move to the single system was made on public health advice and after looking around the rest of the nation.

After allowing venues to use their own check-in system for months, Victoria recently mandated the use of the Service Victoria app, or for third-party systems to link back to the government’s interface.

Venues were given an amnesty until April 23 to comply.

There had been some pushback over fears small businesses would be forced to bear the cost of the move to a single program.

The new rules announced today mean all venues must use the government’s app instead, despite many going through the process of having their systems approved over recent weeks.

“Business welcomes the announcement of the easing of restrictions today,” chief executive of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Paul Guerra said.

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Mandatory COVID Safe check-in affected by Service NSW ‘issue’

Service NSW has resolved an issue which affected multiple transactions and services for about four hours, including its mobile application used for mandatory COVID Safe venue check-ins.

The state government agency on Thursday afternoon said it was working to resolve the problem as soon as possible.

A number of users had reported being unable to log in to the app and having correct pins rejected.

“The issue has been resolved and you can now log in to your account,” Service NSW said in an update to customers about 7pm.

“We thank you for your patience and again apologise for any inconvenience.”

The agency had said check-in should be possible using a web form and businesses should have an alternative check-in method available.

It said any digital driver’s licence, available through the app, “should still be available as a cached version”.

Earlier on Thursday, some Service NSW app users were sent notifications regarding applications for the state’s “Dine & Discover” voucher scheme.

It is being rolled out this month after a trial in The Rocks and Broken Hill, and an expansion to the Sydney CBD, northern beaches and Bega Valley last month.

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Coronavirus Qld: Check-In Qld app launched

Long queues, waiting times and filling out countless forms could be a thing of the past as a new QR code check-in app is launched across Queensland today.

The Check-In Qld app has been spruiked by the state government as a simple way to improve contact tracing.

The free mobile phone app remembers a person’s details, eliminating the need to re-scan QR codes and re-enter personal information when visiting a particular venue.

But ministers have assured the public only the most basic data will be retained by the government in case of an outbreak.

Businesses will need to sign up to the new app, which is not mandatory.

Doug Meagher, Venue Manager at the Orion Hotel in Springfield, said it simplified the check-in process for people visiting his business and the administration duties for his staff.

“It’s made it more efficient, I’ve been able to take a staff member from the front door and put them back into a service role,” Mr Meagher said.

“It was a convoluted system we previously had, we had excel spreadsheets we needed to send to Queensland Health, we had to retain the data for 28 to 56 days on premise.

“We had QR codes with onerous information … you couldn’t check people in with that.

“Now if you come in, scan it once, you’re done.”

Digital Economy Minister Leeanne Enoch said it was similar to the contact tracing app used in the ACT and had gone through extensive trials prior to the rollout.

She said the data collected by the app would be stored for up to 56 days before being deleted.

“Queensland Health will be able to access that immediately if they have to in order to carry out contact tracing,” Ms Enoch said.

Testing and trials of the new app began in January at selected venues from Cairns to Ipswich.

The app’s launch on Sunday comes as Queensland recorded no new cases of locally-transmitted coronavirus cases.

More than 207 businesses in the trial have registered and are using the new app and more than 29,000 people have checked in at these venues.

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Hotel check-in with credit cards: How hotel pre-authorisations work

It’s one of the main causes of shock and awe among travellers. You’ve just arrived at the hotel where you’ve booked a room and the check-in clerk asks to take an imprint of your credit card to pay for any incidental charges you might incur. This is a pre-authorisation, a pre-auth in hotel speak, and it’s likely to happen even if you’ve paid for the full price of the room in advance.

They might also tell you that a pre-auth is not a charge and they’re right, but it places a lock-down on some of your funds. Your available balance on your credit card is reduced by the amount of the pre-auth. If you’ve handed over a debit card it’s even worse, the funds evaporate instantly from your account. The reservoir of funds that you can withdraw from an ATM or use to pay for restaurant bills or anything else takes a hit.

The pre-auth amount varies from hotel to hotel, country to country. Even hotels within the same group do not apply the same pre-auth amount but anywhere between $50-150 per night is within the ballpark. For example at the Courtyard by Marriott London Gatwick Airport hotel, the pre-authorisation figure is £50 ($102) per night per room. Stay in a glossy six-star establishment such as the Raffles group’s Le Royal Monceau in Paris and the pre-authorisation charge for a stay of just three nights and the pre-authorisation for a recent guest was €1200 ($1850).

See also: Rules to stealing toiletries from fancy hotels

The total amount that a hotel blocks in the form of pre-auths from its guests adds up. Assume a medium-sized hotel with 250 rooms with an occupancy rate of 70 per cent. On any one day therefore 175 rooms are occupied. If the average stay is 2.5 nights and if the hotel’s pre-auth is $100 per room per night, the hotel has effectively locked down guests’ funds to the value of $43,750.

Apply that same metric to a major hotel group such as Marriott International, which now has 1.1 million rooms following its acquisition of Starwood, and at any one time they’ve put a hold on close to $200 million of their guests’ money. So what is the hotel doing with all that loot? Answer: nothing. They can’t because they don’t actually own the funds that have been pre-authorised, they’re sitting in financial limbo. Not until if and when the pre-authorisation is converted to a charge, which happens at check-out, will the funds be transferred to the hotel’s bank account.

What’s wrong with a pre-auth you might think? The hotel has to guard itself against the cost and inconvenience of chasing guests who incur charges and then can’t or won’t pay.

Note that the pre-auth comes with a sunset clause. Unless the hotel converts the pre-auth funds to a charge the pre-auth is cancelled within a specified period of time and funds are unblocked from the cardholder’s account. The actual length of time a merchant can maintain a lock on funds in a pre-auth varies depending on their merchant classification code (MCC code) but five days is standard. After it expires a pre-auth can only be renewed with the consent of the cardholder.

Further, according to a Marriott spokesperson, “Credit card holds are typically released within 24 hours of checking out.”

See also: TripAdvisor names best hotel in the world for 2016

That sounds fine, but what that means is that the hotel has advised the financial institution that the pre-auth has been cancelled. Getting the cash back into your account is another matter. It can take several days after you check out for that to happen, or even longer. In its Booking Terms & Conditions, the Mantra group advises “The pre-authorised amount is set aside by the card issuer for a period of up to 14 days from the date of pre-authorisation.”

The problem is not the hotel, it’s the financial institution behind your credit or debit card. When the hotel has notified the financial institution to unblock the pre-auth it’s in their interests to drag their feet. If that institution can delay handing back your pre-auth for a few more days it can use those funds for another purpose, and that’s what it does.

There are a few lessons to take away from this. First off, use a credit card rather than a debit card for the pre-auth. When you check out, use the same card to settle your bill or it can take even longer for the funds to be restored to your account. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that it’s better to make a charge against your pre-auth, however small. This requires the hotel to make a charge against your pre-auth and your card issuer will refund the difference, although it can also happen that the hotel will regard whatever you’ve charged to your room as a separate charge from the pre-auth.

Another way around this problem is to use cash for the pre-auth. When you check in, the cash should be sealed in an envelope and held until your departure, minus any amount owing. That works most of the time, although cash carries its own set of risks, and if the pre-auth is to cover the room charge as well as incidentals the amount could be substantial. The hotel might also insist on local currency, although US dollars or euros will usually get you through.

See also: What hotel concierges services can do for you
See also: How to be a better hotel guest

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On positivity, learning as part of life, and judo throws (+ a January workout accountability check-in)

Happy Monday, and welcome to our revamped weekly newsletter, where I’ll be sharing physical and mental fitness-related content with you on a weekly basis.

As always, I value your feedback, so please feel free to reply directly to this email if you have any questions or comments (yes, I am a real human). I get a lot of emails and messages, so I can’t reply to all of them, but I do read everything you guys send me!

If you’re confused about this update and have no idea what you signed up for, you can read all about why I made this shift here.

Housekeeping reminder — 

This is week two of the January Accountability Challenge! The goal: get in 20 workouts before the end of the month. Join our super supportive and cool Facebook group to take part or post anywhere on social media.

(And yes, it’s free!)

What I’m reading this week —

Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to-1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life by Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD

I used to be a total pessimist. I would see the negative in everything. I just thought that was the way I was wired and that there was nothing I could do to change. (Looking back, it probably wasn’t overly enjoyable to be around me.)

In Positivity, Fredrickson shows us how even the most negative people can become more positive — and why it matters.

Training yourself to become more positive through techniques such as cultivating a gratitude practice, becoming more mindful in your daily life, and sticking to a 3:1 positivity to negativity ratio can actually change our brains (a result of neuroplasticity) and re-wire us to be more positive human beings. This can have loads of benefits, including better health, better relationships, and yes, increased feelings of happiness.

Another major benefit of cultivating positivity is that it can help broaden our perspective:

“Positive people are able to maintain a broader perspective and see the big picture, which helps them identify solutions where as negative people maintain a narrower perspective and tend to focus on problems.” 

What I’m watching —

Soul is a beautiful movie about hope, purpose, and being fully present in life. This movie was just what I needed following a tumultuous year full of negativity and positivity. It left me feeling inspired and hopeful for the year to come.

Available on Disney+ (there’s a free trial if you’ve never used it before). 

A quote I’m inspired by —

“A certain naïveté is prerequisite to all learning. A certain optimism is prerequisite to all action.” – George Leonard

Something I learned recently —

I’ve been training a little in Judo and learned a throw called Tai Otoshi. Here is an example if you’re interested in what it looks like.

I have a lot to learn when it comes to martial arts training, but I’m fully enjoying the process.

Future goal: To get a couple of black belts. First, I need to get my blue belt…

New workouts from last week —

Last week’s workouts were the first in our latest community challenge.

Missed the first week of the January Accountability Challenge? Don’t worry, it’s never too late to start getting some movement in for 2021.

Check out the challenge page for all the details (including the downloadable challenge calendar for the month).

Remember, you can get these and all future workouts right in the 12 Minute Athlete app when you subscribe as a Super Athlete (this is WAY cheaper than joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer! In addition, you’ll be helping to support the site and making future features to the app possible.).

I’m feeling cautiously hopeful about this year. Anyone else?

Here’s to a (hopefully) happy 2021,

Krista Stryker

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Service NSW check-in app suffers statewide outage

“My iOS face recognition usually works to log in to my account, but this time it is also asking for my pin and even when type it in, it still does not work,” wrote Ursula Ramierez.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Customer Service said the outage lasted for two hours, preventing some customers from checking in with the COVID Safe Check-in tool.

“It is vital that customer contact details are still collected digitally. In the event of an outage, customers and businesses are encouraged to use the Service NSW check-in webform for all check-ins,” she said, adding that the webform had not been impacted.

Customers can access the webform by scanning the QR Code or businesses can display the check-in webform on their own devices for customers to use.”

The outage coincided with day one of the New Year’s Test, where ticketholders were advised to check in to the Sydney Cricket ground on arrival.

It is not yet known how many cricket fans had already checked in to the SCG before the outage.

Venue owners had been allowed to choose or build a QR code platform at their discretion throughout 2020.


However, as of January 1, the Service NSW app was made mandatory for hospitality venues and hairdressers, a ruling prompted by insufficient or unreliable data being provided to contact tracers from bespoke apps in the wake of the Avalon cluster.

Announcing the mandate in late December, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the Service NSW app had “made life so much easier for contact tracers”.

She said businesses should not open “unless [they] have systems in place to get all of the information for people walking through that front door”.

Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello has been the driving force behind the expansion of the app, which also houses digital drivers licences.

The app will also be the only way to access $100 in taxpayer-funded restaurant and entertainment vouchers being rolled out as part of the state government’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan.

The opposition spokeswoman for better public services, Sophie Cotsis, said the crash was frustrating and concerning because important information would have been lost for contact tracers.

“People across NSW have also been left without a digital driver’s licence, with some going to on social media to state they were unable to show their digital licence to police. This is unacceptable,” she said.

“The minister must have a contingency plan and ensure this does not happen again.”


Ms Cotsis added that she had used the app after multiple attempts at a cafe around midday on Thursday, however her friend was unable to log on.

The Department of Customer Service spokeswoman said in the case of a future outage, businesses can lodge customer records in a spreadsheet or other digital format that protects customers’ privacy.

If there is no working electronic method, venues can record customer details on paper, which must be entered into an electronic format within 12 hours.

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Law Society warning over COVID QR check-in data privacy

South Australia’s mandatory COVID-Safe check-in system lacks “legislative safeguards”, with personal information at risk under the current laws of being used for purposes other than contact tracing, the state’s Law Society president has warned.

In a letter addressed to Premier Steven Marshall and published on the SA Law Society website yesterday, outgoing society president Tim White warned that the State Government needed to adopt “greater care” when handling personal information collected by its mandatory COVID-Safe check-in system.

The technology was introduced on December 1 to track the names and contact details of people who visit businesses with a COVID-Safe plan, to help contact tracers contain the spread of the coronavirus in the event of another SA outbreak.

All businesses with a COVID-Safe plan are required under the state’s COVID-19 emergency management directions to display a unique QR code at their premises for customers to scan upon entry, as well as to provide a paper log-book for customers who do not own smart phones.

Marshall and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens have previously assured the public that the collected data is stored in a government-secured and encrypted database, and only retained for 28 days.

“This information is only kept on the basis that we’re looking to be able to do contact tracing when a positive case is detected, which means that the data will be dumped after 28 days – it’s not being retained,” Stevens told reporters in November.

But White wrote that despite assurances from authorities, the society’s Human Rights Committee could not find any provisions within the COVID-19 emergency management directions which restrict the use or disclosure of the information.

“We are concerned about the lack of legislative safe guards in place to manage the collection, storage, use and disclosure of personal information of persons,” he wrote.

“This particularly so given that a person is compelled to provide their relevant contact details to the COVID-Safe check-in in order to go about their day to day lives.”

White wrote that while confidential personal information is offered some protection under the state’s Public Health Act, information could be disclosed in some circumstances under different state or federal laws.

“This legislative framework makes it difficult for South Australians to have confidence in the assurances provided by the State Government,” he wrote.

The Law Society has called on the Government to consider introducing a separate law “to give a legislative base to the publicly made assurances regarding the collection, storage, use and disclosure of the personal information” collected by the check-in system.

“The now mass collection of personal information requires the exercise of greater care by government authorities in the management of such information,” White wrote.

“Legislation, as proposed, will assist to assure South Australians that their personal information will not be used for any purpose other than contact tracing, and in doing so, maintain the willingness of South Australians to provide information to assist the efforts of government authorities to keep the community safe from COVID-19.”

In a statement to InDaily, a government spokesperson reiterated that data from the QR check-in system is only used by public health authorities for contact tracing and dumped after 28 days.

“The QR system has been operational since 30 November and over 3 million check ins have been deleted after 28 days,” the spokesperson said.

“Together, South Australians have embraced the COVID-Safe check-in system to help stop any potential spread of COVID-19 and keep all South Australians safe.

“The system has been key to further opening up the South Australian economy, which in turn creates and supports jobs.

“Our public health team have been doing an incredible job throughout the pandemic, and knowing that contact tracers now have another tool to quickly identify and isolate any contacts is vital to deal with any future outbreaks.”

White will be replaced by newly-appointed SA Law Society President Rebecca Sandford this year.

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Data gathering capped as centralised QR check-in system launches in South Australia

A mandatory QR code check-in system has been rolled out across South Australia, and despite original suggestions it would require large amounts of personal information, the State Government has opted for a more limited approach to data gathering.

From today, the SA Government expects citizens participating in public activities, such as visiting a pub or playing sport, to first scan a QR code that will prompt them to upload a phone number and name to a central SA Health database.

The system has been rolled out to help contact tracers locate people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

The Government originally said people with smartphones would have to download its mySA GOV app, which is used mainly as a digital version of a driver’s licence, and subsequently required users to upload a large amount of personal information.

With a lack of detail offered to the public, the announcement sparked major privacy concerns.

Scanning a QR code with your phone’s camera will direct you to this website.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

But Police Commissioner Grant Stevens today said the check-in feature on the mySA GOV app would only require people to enter their name and phone number.

“There are two parts to the app,” he said.

“There’s already the existing app people can use for their driver’s licence and car registration, and there’s a second button at the bottom of the screen which is for the COVID-safe check-in.

For people who do not want to download the app, the check-in feature can also be accessed by scanning a QR code with a smartphone camera, at which point the user is directed to a website that requests a name and phone number.

People who do not have a smartphone will be required to leave similar contact details on paper.

A ‘honey pot’ of data

Australian Privacy Foundation chairperson David Vaille said the idea that citizens could have been forced to upload driver’s licences and contact details to a database in order to enter a pub was “gross overkill” and represented the “honey pot of all honey pots” for cyber criminals.

“That data is the gold standard for identity theft,” he said.

Mr Vaille said criminals trawling the internet for identities to impersonate — so they could set up a credit card in somebody else’s name, for example — typically had to pull the data together from fragmented information.

He said the idea that all that information could be “bundled together” into one database was a “red light”.

“We’re in an age where nobody can promise to keep your data secure.

He said contact tracers ultimately only required a person’s mobile phone number or email address to perform their work.

The Government has said the check-in data would be held on an encrypted server and deleted every 28 days.

Encrypted server

Mr Stevens argued that those with privacy concerns were better off leaving their details on the encrypted server rather than on “pieces of paper floating around businesses” if they did not want to use their phones to check in.

“It’s held in the same secure portal as we hold child protection information,” he said.

“I can only assure people there is no risk that the data will be misused as it will be used for contact tracing only.”

He added the data would not be handed over to police to help with an investigation due to a suspicion of a crime having been committed.

a woman behind a glass window with a qr code printed on a paper standing in front of her
QR codes are also being used interstate.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

But the Commissioner said police would undertake “compliance checks” in the relevant establishments.

“If police officers or other authorised officers attend premises, they can ask you to demonstrate that you’ve checked in,” he said.

Premier Steven Marshall did not offer an end date to mandatory QR code check-ins and said it might continue once the Government “transitions away” from its Emergency Management Act.

“But our major emergency declaration is something under the Public Health Act and that may or may not have a requirement for ongoing use of QR codes and face masks,” he said.

“I wouldn’t think it will be a permanent fixture in SA, but while the health advice remains that we need to keep our QR codes, that’s what we’ll do.”

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