“It happens all the time”: Contact tracing veteran reveals lockdown ‘lie’ was “not exceptional”


EXCLUSIVE | An unofficial guide to contact tracing is prominently displayed on a fridge door in SA Health’s Communicable Disease Control Branch office, headlined by a primary rule: “Everybody lies.”

The list is derived from a “humorous” farewell speech given by sexual health physician and former Senior Consultant of Sexual Health Russell Waddell, who retired from CDCB in September.

Waddell worked in the unit from 2011 after a long career as Clinical Director of STD Services at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, in which capacity he supervised the training program for contact tracers.

Approached by InDaily, he confirmed the first of “Russell’s Rules” for contact tracing, as displayed at CDCB, is that “they lie” – a turn of phrase he emphasised was derived from a “humorous talk I’ve given in the past”.

“People just don’t always give you the truth – not because they’re deliberately lying but because they have different priorities to you [and] that’s why it’s important to establish rapport,” he said.

He said rules were contained in “quite a good after-dinner talk”, in which ‘They Lie’ was “a facetious line, just to remind people that you don’t always get the truth”.

“I used the word ‘lie’ in the talk, not to denigrate people but to remember that people may always have a reason for keeping something back,” he told InDaily.

The list of rules contained in the speech were since printed and posted in the SA Health office.

“I’ve been doing [contact tracing] for a long time – I teach the students that come through the clinics,” Waddell said.

“I’m not really denigrating people by saying ‘they lie’ [but] they never really give you the whole truth.”

The insight is significant given the alleged “lie” – as Premier Steven Marshall has put it several times – of a man working in the Stamford medi-hotel, who did not disclose to authorities that he also worked at the Woodville Pizza Bar.

Instead, he initially said he ordered a pizza from there, before changing his story to say he picked it up himself from the pizzeria – a key location in the Parafield COVID cluster now implicated in the case of a Woodville High School student who last night tested positive.

Marshall last week declared the 36-year-old Spanish man, in SA on a graduate visa, “deliberately misled our contact tracing team” with a story that “didn’t add up” – a story he initially blamed for the Government’s decision to implement a six-day statewide lockdown.

“We now know that they lied,” he said on Friday.

“To say that that I am fuming about the actions of this individual is an absolute understatement – the selfish actions of this individual have put our whole state in a very difficult situation… his actions have affected businesses, individuals, family groups and is completely and utterly unacceptable.

“I will not let the disgraceful conduct of a single individual keep SA in these circuit-breaker conditions one day longer than is necessary.”

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens has repeatedly restated that the misleading information triggered the stay-at-home order, saying: “Had this person been truthful to the contact tracing teams, we would not have gone into a six-day lockdown.”

However, Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier has since adopted a more measured tone, insisting “there was a range of information that I draw upon when I provide that sort of advice”, and seizing upon Stevens’ comment that the Spaniard’s misleading information was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

But Waddell, asked whether the pizza worker was an exception in contact tracing, today told InDaily: “He’s not – at all.”

“He’s not exceptional – it happens all the time,” he said.

“People omit something.”

He said the general issue wasn’t necessarily “lying” but a different “perception of reality”.

“They always keep something back,” he said.

While this rule was a given when dealing with people’s sexual histories, Waddell noted “when I moved from STD up to CDCB in 2011, I thought Contact Tracing up there would be a piece of cake… but to my surprise, it was just as difficult”.

He cites examples of tracing meningococcal cases, saying “young teenagers don’t want to tell you where they’ve been [and] they’re very, very cagey about where they’ve been and who they’ve been talking to”.

“Epidemiologists start salivating when they get a party where they know who was there, and a small little group of people and they know what everybody ate,” he explained.

“But the tricky part is finding out who prepared the food that was brought – everyone is always very reluctant to dob someone in.”

In contact tracing, Waddell said, “you are always re-evaluating information… and if something doesn’t fit, you go back and revisit it”.

He said the key to contact tracing was to “establish rapport so that you try to ensure most of the information you get is accurate”, but that often “when you’re looking at the bigger picture, something doesn’t fit for a variety of reasons”.

“Where were they on what day? People get their days wrong all the time,” he said.

“You know you’re not going to get all the information first up.”

He said he would like to see “some of these journalists do a seven-day food history” to appreciate how difficult it is for people interviewed to recall specific information.

Waddell suggested “this 12-hour media cycle” in recent weeks might have contributed to last week’s events, saying “the department is then put under a lot of pressure to get things, to try and feed the media”.

“I wonder whether the pressure for making decisions and all the rest of it [meant] they rushed into it a bit,” he said.

Which brings him to the last of Russell’s Rules – that “50 per cent of what you read in the media is wrong, and the other 50 per cent is bullshit”.

“When I say ‘media’, it includes social media, which is 90 per cent wrong and 10 per cent bullshit,” he noted, adding that “even with scientific literature you have to be very careful”.

Waddell said in last week’s case, “clearly someone was suspicious and when they went back and checked he ‘fessed up”.

The Spaniard has since released a statement through migration lawyer Scott Jelbert from Camena Legal and Migration, who said his client was “extremely remorseful and deeply sorry for any part his conduct played in any unnecessary lock-down actions”.

“He did not foresee or intend that things might unfold as they have,” continued the statement, released late on Monday.

“I am however instructed that some information is not fair, accurate or complete, notwithstanding the State Government’s comments, and he is concerned he has been all but publicly named.”

Marshall has maintained his position since Friday that “providing false and misleading information to an investigation which involves a global pandemic is a very, very serious issue” and that “quite frankly I strongly believe there have got to be consequences”.

“We do not want to see this behaviour,” he said on Saturday.

“It’s very important for people to understand that when they’re interviewed by CDCB as part of a contact tracing exercise that they must provide full information.”

The Government has been hiring university students to assist their contact tracing program since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and continues to do so.

A University of Adelaide spokesperson said today: “Earlier this year, the University’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences was asked by SA Health to raise awareness among final-year medical students that SA Health was looking to hire some of them as contact tracers during the pandemic.”

The said several final-year medical students – who have since graduated – “took up that offer and contributed to tracing efforts during the ‘first wave’”.

“Recently, SA Health again approached the Faculty to assist in raising awareness of a similar opportunity among our cohort of newly graduated medical students,” the university said.

“We are not yet aware of anyone taking up that offer.

“Given that – if they have – their employment is with SA Health, we encourage you to contact their employer about those arrangements.”

InDaily has contacted SA Health for comment.

Waddell said the university cohort were “very good people” who contributed to the contact tracing effort.

However, he said, “the best contact tracers-  if I was to employ someone – would be a hairdresser”.

“They’re able to establish rapport with their clients – and that’s the key,” he said.

“It’s all about the relationship between you and the interviewee – and they’re able to establish rapport with people and to question them without being snoopy.”

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Taskforce Protect: What we know so far about SA authorities’ probe into contact tracing ‘lie’


Investigations into South Australia’s recent coronavirus outbreak have centred on a worker at a suburban pizza bar.

But the story has changed and evolved several times, as more information has come to light and previous claims have been called into question.

The matter is now being investigated by a 36-person group formed by SA Police — Taskforce Protect — which includes members of the state’s Serious Crime Taskforce and Major Crime, assisted by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

So, what sparked such a serious probe?

Who is involved?

The man who was the main focus of detectives is a 36-year-old Spanish national in Australia on a temporary graduate’s visa, who “misled” contact tracers during initial interviews.

Late last week, authorities confirmed he had worked at the Stamford medi-hotel in Adelaide’s CBD, as well as the Woodville Pizza Bar in Adelaide’s north-western suburbs — at which a Peppers Waymouth medi-hotel security guard who tested positive to COVID-19 had also worked.

The Woodville Pizza Bar was linked to SA’s coronavirus cluster.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Yesterday, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens revealed the man was not the only person to have “lied” to authorities.

Taskforce Protect leader, Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey, said detectives were now waiting to speak to two other people linked to the pizza bar.

Detectives have also combed through 400 hours of CCTV, much of which was filmed at Peppers Waymouth Hotel, to help contact tracing efforts and also look at what happened in the hotel.

But Assistant Commissioner Harvey refused to give more information about the two additional people’s roles.

What did the pizza bar worker tell authorities?

The pizza bar was declared a coronavirus hotspot by SA Health late on Tuesday night.

On Friday, a “fuming” Premier Steven Marshall said the pizza worker had initially told contact tracers he had only purchased a pizza from the shop.

Businesses closed
The South Australian “circuit breaker” lockdown closed businesses across the state.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

That information prompted health authorities to suspect he had caught the virus during the short period of time he was in the store to collect the pizza, or off the pizza box itself, making Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier worry SA’s outbreak was more virulent than it actually was.

The false information was, Mr Marshall said, “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, leading to the strictest lockdown on any Australian state or territory during the pandemic being implemented in SA.

During the “circuit breaker” lockdown, contact tracers continued to investigate the COVID-19 outbreak.

It was during these investigations that the team discovered the man had actually worked at the pizza bar across several shifts — dramatically increasing his exposure to the Peppers medi-hotel worker, and therefore, the virus.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video. Duration: 2 minutes 52 seconds

Premier Steven Marshall did not mince his words as he revealed the “lie” on Friday.

The new information led to Mr Marshall announcing the lockdown would end on Saturday, three days early.

“I will not let the disgraceful conduct of a single individual keep SA in these circuit breaker conditions one day longer than what is necessary.”

What have police said?

Despite Commissioner Stevens saying on Friday morning the pizza worker would not be fined or charged for his actions, by Friday evening he had announced the formation of Taskforce Protect.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video. Duration: 2 minutes 45 seconds

Grant Stevens says there are currently no penalties for lying to contact tracers, after a man misled health authorities in SA.

Assistant Commissioner Harvey said the taskforce was looking at numerous pieces of legislation which may have been breached, including criminal law, the Emergency Management Act, or The Public Health Act.

Two senior SA Police officers standing at a lectern
South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens and Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey announced the taskforce.(ABC News: Mahalia Carter)

He would not comment on “any other behaviour that may be alleged or suspected” in relation to the owner or managers of the pizza bar.

During his update on the taskforce’s progress yesterday, Assistant Commissioner Harvey said there was no presumption of guilt about the actions of those associated with the pizza bar.

“The taskforce is formed for the purpose of looking at acts or omissions that may or may not have amounted to a lie, that may have influenced decisions in this state,” he said.

“We’ll then see if there’s a charge to be laid.”

He said detectives had now seized mobile phones, a laptop and a hard drive which were “directly related to the person of interest”.

Is contact tracing ongoing?

The short answer is yes.

After the man’s “lie” was exposed on Friday, SA Health authorities scrambled to get in touch with his list of close contacts and make sure they were in isolation.

Assistant Commissioner Harvey said as his taskforce discovered new names that were potentially linked to the outbreak, and that they were passing them on to contact tracing teams.

Professor Spurrier described the level of work being done to find everyone linked to the cluster as “contact tracing on steroids”, with more than 77,000 tests being carried out in the week since the outbreak was announced.

More than 4,000 people are quarantining and one person — a man in his 30s — remains in hospital.

Professor Spurrier yesterday said the pizza bar worker was being offered mental health support as he quarantined in a medi-hotel.

Although she was disappointed by the man providing false information, she said there were “different ways” of looking at things.

“That person, as far as … I understand, is very regretful, and we do need to put those supports in place for them,” Professor Spurrier said.

“There are always things that could have been happening in somebody’s life [and] there’s always a different way of looking at things in different perspective.”



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Victoria’s contact tracing system was overwhelmed, Finkel says


Dr Finkel told the inquiry on Wednesday Victoria would have benefited from having a digital system earlier during the second wave, even as the owner of Cedar Meats blamed the health department for failures that exacerbated its big outbreak.

Cedar Meats owner Tony Kairouz, speaking publicly for the first time about one of Victoria’s largest outbreaks, deflected any blame to the state health department, claiming its response was “complex and inefficient” and failed to conduct on-site tests or communicate properly with his company’s multicultural staff.

‘Has to be better’

Dr Finkel said: “I’m enthusiastic about the benefits of having a fully digital end-to-end platform going forward. So having that at an earlier stage would have been better.

“I really can’t speculate what would have been the outcome if we had it earlier,” he said, but the complete digitisation of test information “has to be better”.

Dr Finkel heard reports of “overlapping decisions” and cases being lost or duplicated, as Victoria’s paper-based system became “overwhelmed” during the peak of the state’s second wave in late July and August, when more than 700 new cases a day were being reported.

“The other advantage [of a digital system] is you don’t lose track of what’s going on and you don’t lose cases, and you get data reports,” Dr Finkel said.

However, he cautioned the inquiry that he had entered in “the middle of the firefight” and his focus was on improving the system, not investigating what went wrong.

“It’s easy to get overwhelmed and yes Victoria was overwhelmed,” Dr Finkel told the inquiry.

“It all comes to preparation and there’s no question the Victorian system was overwhelmed and cases just weren’t being managed end to end, some were lost, duplications occurred.”

Big improvement

He said the contact tracing system had now significantly improved and “the system has now settled down” into what he called “a best practice management structure”, a point made in his most recent report.

Separately, Cedar Meats’ Mr Kairouz told the inquiry they were not told about a case until April 27 and their factory was closed on May 1.

He said he was never made aware of a case in an employee on April 2.

Mr Andrews has previously said the April 2 case told health authorities he never attended work while infectious and so Cedar Meats were never notified.

“We were totally in the hands of DHHS,” Mr Kairouz said.

He praised the hard work and diligence of departmental officers but said that in hindsight, staff should have been tested before being sent home, as wrong contact details and language barriers added to “a lot of confusion”.

“In the early discussions with DHHS, Cedar Meats strongly advocated for all staff to be tested on-site before they were sent home on that Friday, May 1,” Mr Kairouz said.

“We knew how difficult it would be to communicate with 350 people of such diverse backgrounds and language barriers once they had left the business.”

The Australian Medical Association’s Victorian president, Julian Rait, raised concerns about the culture within the DHHS.

“I think culturally there is a flaw in the department,” Dr Rait told the inquiry.

“Open disclosure and honesty is what’s expected of medical professionals, quite properly, and it’s not something that’s basically been modelled by the department at all.

“They have instead decided to, sort of, be very defensive and keep their imperfections to themselves.”

Former President of the Australian Medical Association Dr Mukesh Haikerwal also told the inquiry GPs were told not to test close contacts of positive COVID cases who were asymptomatic.

Mr Haikerwal said he would test anyone who is the direct contact of a positive case, regardless of whether they symptoms.

“Put me in jail, but that’s what I’m going to do. It’s really important that people get tested now,” he said.



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Victorian Contact Tracing System Not Fully Digitized

testing

The ever-growing number of coronavirus cases in the country calls for a very urgent contact tracing system. That being said, Victoria’s system is still not fully digitized.

This would probably hinder the ease of flow in the implementation of safety protocols.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry examining contact tracing that the state’s antiquated system would need to be called on to deal with daily cases beyond that.

Provided that thousands of people come in for testing on a daily bases, the emerging need for digitization is of utter importance.

“If there are cases in Victoria, and it’s a small number up to some handful of numbers per day the new system could currently deal with those and give the workforce (contact tracers) the current digital advantages,” he said.

He added that the new IT system allowed contact tracers to get in touch with close contacts as soon as possible after a confirmed positive test and made a digital record of cases from the time of testing.

A paper-based method in documenting cases was formerly used, which were manually entered into the IT system. Dr Finkel emphasized that this old method had led to lose of cases, duplications occurring, and the totality of the system being overwhelmed.

Needless to say, hundreds of contact tracers had been trained to use the new IT system. However, up to 3,000 in all are needed to receive the training.

To this point, Dr Finkel revealed that it was hard to say whether other Australian states would have been overwhelmed by a surge in cases as Victoria was the epicentre of the second wave.

However, he emphasized that the public health response system that was originally designed could only cater and cope up to infectious diseases with a low number of cases, like measles.

“If Victoria in the past had better systems in place, they might not have gotten to the place where it was being tested to the breakdown limit,” Dr Finkel said

Given that, there is more room for developments. Once a preventative and responsive approach will be incorporated, rest assured the state could handle the pandemic.

As of now, the Upper House inquiry is investigating how the system of identifying and tracking infections operates, with hopes on preparing the state for any further outbreaks.

Why people don’t trust contact tracing apps, and what to do about it


The news: Digital contact tracing apps have faced a wide range of difficulties, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon the idea, according to the authors of a new essay in the journal Science. Instead, they argue, successful digital contact tracing needs to be ethical, trustworthy, locally rooted, and adaptive to new data on what works.

The problem: Modern public health relies on contact tracing during disease outbreaks, and digital apps promised to add jet fuel to the fight against covid-19. Early in the pandemic, companies and governments spun up contact tracing apps as part of a massive effort to stop the spread of the disease. Improbably, Google and Apple even joined forces. Now we’re seeing the flaws in this premise play out. Download rates are low, usage rates appear even lower, and apps face lots of other logistical hurdles. Contact tracing, both manual and automated, still isn’t delivering desperately needed results at scale. A recent Pew survey shows that people struggle to trust public health officials with their data, and don’t like answering the phone when it’s an unknown caller (like a health department), among other obstacles.

Not only that, but digital contact tracing has clearly failed to effectively reach many people. It’s not just those without a smartphone, but also marginalized groups like the elderly, the unhoused, and those who are worried about law enforcement and immigration. 

What to do instead: In their Science essay, authors Alessandro Blasimme and Effy Vayena, bioethicists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, say “adaptive governance” is one important missing ingredient. It’s all about acting collaboratively, nimbly, and locally: stop looking for centralized, top-down campaigns and strategies that may fizzle out when they don’t fit local needs. It’s time to rely on local partnerships, cross-border collaborations, and all the human teamwork that’s easy to forget when there’s a shiny new button to click.

The US doesn’t currently have a national contact tracing app, but if the authors are correct, perhaps that’s not a major issue. They say instead that if we want more people to adopt new technologies, we need to rely on “the piecemeal creation of public trust.” It’s an ongoing process of authorities learning from their mistakes and listening to users. It’s also important to create genuine oversight, so that people feel their data isn’t being misused, and put effort into cross-border collaborations so that your app doesn’t stop working when you move from one place to another. 

The bottom line: There are still plenty of questions to be answered about the effectiveness and development of contact tracing apps. But instead of dropping digital contact tracing efforts or scaling up existing efforts without taking a hard look, it’s time to reconsider. Digital contact tracing is just one part of a toolkit that needs research-based, on-the-ground teamwork to build trust and relationships among users, governments, and the technologies themselves.



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Melbourne’s suburban coronavirus contact tracing teams were supposed to be running by now. So what’s the hold-up?


In early September, as Victoria’s daily COVID-19 case numbers were finally dropping out of triple figures, Premier Daniel Andrews announced the creation of a system of local response units in Melbourne, to replace the highly centralised system that had failed to stop the second wave.

But two months on, while six units in regional Victoria are operating, the metropolitan hubs that were supposed to be established “within weeks”, have not yet started working.

Mukesh Haikerwal, a Melbourne GP and former president of the Australian Medical Association, said the idea of setting up a whole metropolitan health hub in a matter of weeks was “pie in the sky”.

When the pandemic began, his Altona North clinic set itself up as a testing and tracing clinic.

It helped bring an outbreak of 22 cases in four days down to zero.

It is one reason Dr Haikerwal was invited to become a member of an expert panel to advise on the set-up of metropolitan Melbourne’s response units.

Mukesh Haikerwal says he has no idea when local contact tracing units will start operating.(ABC News: Scott Jewell)

But he said he had not been contacted about it until late last week — and he had no idea when the units would be up and running.

“I’d like to know that as well. I really can’t give you a clear answer,” he said.

“It’s a great aspiration, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not reasonable to expect that you can click your fingers and it’s going to happen.

“It’s got to be properly thought out, and properly financed. You’ve got to have the right people and the right equipment. There’s no money, no staffing, no facilities.”

Epidemiologist says delays are ‘a concern’

Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said local contact tracing hubs were a “brilliant” idea.

But she said the delay in getting them going in suburban Melbourne fitted a pattern of policy changes taking a long time to become reality.

A headshot of a woman with brown curly hair and black glasses.
Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett says nothing is as simple as it looks from the outside.(Supplied)

“Those delays are a concern,” she said.

“If you do start to ease back on things like mask wearing, or you start to have bigger gatherings, you need a very effective rapid response if there’s an outbreak.”

She believes many of the delays in rolling out new systems, like asymptomatic testing, workplace screening and even a QR code system, are because it takes time to set up new IT systems.

“Nothing’s as simple as it might look from the outside,” she said.

“Sometimes, yes — you have to negotiate with the workplace, you have to figure out who’s going to pay for the test.

“But sometimes you just do the testing, and you sort the rest out later when it’s something so critical to containing a wave.”

A Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) spokesperson said all six metropolitan Melbourne Local Public Health Units had started operations and were “undergoing induction and continued training”.

But the DHHS did not confirm when the units were expected to begin contact tracing operations.

Focusing on detective work

The model for the system is the local contact tracing unit at Barwon Health, which successfully controlled an outbreak in Colac in Victoria’s south-west linked to meatworks, and has been helping to get other units going in regional Victoria.

Two women sit at desks in an office, working at their computers, both wearing facemasks.
The contact tracing team at Barwon Health in Geelong was set up after an outbreak at Colac in Victoria’s south-west.(ABC News: Peter Healy)

Barwon Health’s director of infectious disease, Eugene Athan, said it was “quite a significant task”.

“It takes four weeks to bring together the pool of workers, because they’re redeployed often from other areas,” he said.

“It’s a whole reconfiguration of a health team — not focused on delivery of healthcare, but focused on detective work.

“So you have to pull people out of their regular daytime jobs, realign them, train them up in a couple of days, and then in a fortnight they’re up and running.”

A man wearing a blue striped suit, blue shirt and glasses stares at the camera, behind him a Barwon Health banner.
Eugene Athan says it usually takes around a month to set up a contact tracing team.(ABC News: Peter Healy)

Professor Athan said it probably took around two to three weeks for the new team at Barwon Health to “find our stride”.

“But by that stage we’d already made significant inroads into the region,” he said.

“I would say it probably takes about four weeks for a new set-up, even in the best of circumstances — that would be realistic.”

But it is now eight weeks since the announcement of the metropolitan teams and Dr Haikerwal says he is still no wiser about what’s going on, even in his own region covered by Western Health.

“I am hoping that I will find out soon,” he said.

“Our local hub is the Western Hospital. I’ve been in touch with the CEO there, and I’ve had an email communication about the next phase, so I’m looking very much to working with a hospital that I’ve been working with for nearly 30 years.”

Professor Bennett says when the units do eventually begin operations, it will be “better late than never”.

“It’s a good thing we have them. It just could have helped us bring our numbers down harder and faster, if we’d got the IT system up and all these other things built around that very, very quickly,” she said.



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Privacy concerns as South Australia becomes latest state to flag QR code contact tracing


A health technology expert has raised concerns about the privacy of consumer data as South Australia becomes the latest state to consider using QR codes for coronavirus contact tracing.

SA Premier Steven Marshall expressed hope today that coronavirus Victorian border restrictions and the ban on drinking at hospitality venues while standing up may be lifted in two weeks.

He said the Government was looking to boost contact tracing efforts, including QR [quick response] code scanning in hospitality venues in preparation for the change.

SA COVID-19 State Coordinator and Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said consumer data from the scans would be “dumped” every 28 days, and would be used for no other purpose than contact tracing.

But Flinders University Professor of Personal Health Informatics Niranjan Bidargaddi said the Government needed to provide safeguards to demonstrate its agencies and the hospitality venues themselves will not misuse the data for purposes other than public health.

“Personal information plus your movement information from that you can infer people’s behaviour and that’s what we are handing over, really not just who we are but what we do and how we behave,” Professor Bidargaddi said.

“Would these venues … have access to this data? Will they be able to link this data to the data they’re already collecting as part of their transaction systems?”

He said governments considering using QR code technology should allow consumers to see exactly what data is being collected about them.

“The more they [the public] understand what is collected, how it is used … the more willing the public would be to embrace this type of initiative,” he said.

“I myself would trust [that] but I would be more trusting and more grateful if the data was also given back to me.”

Data to be ‘dumped’ after 28 days

Commissioner Grant Stevens said the Government was determined to keep the data secure, and that the collected information will be deleted after 28 days.

“An absolute fundamental of any type of technology platform like this is that we assure the people who are required to use it that the information is kept secure,” he said.

“This information is only kept on the basis we are 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.

A QR code in the window of a Melbourne cafe telling customers to check in.
A cafe uses the QR code system to tell customers to check-in in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.(ABC News: James Hancock)

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said his Government was looking to other jurisdictions for how to roll the technology out.

“There has been some work with QR codes in New South Wales and also in Queensland,” he said.

“They’ve addressed a lot of those issues and we can provide a further detailed briefing.”

Professor Bidargaddi said deleting the data after 28 days was “definitely a good safeguard”, but not sufficient in itself to assure people their data could not be misused.

In a statement, SA Health said it was still working through the details of how the QR reader will work.

“While we work through those details, the privacy and protection of data will be paramount and we will ensure the data is only accessible by authorised officers for contact tracing purposes.”

‘Promotional material sent’ after scan

Problems with QR code contact tracing have emerged in Tasmania, where an independent MP said she had received advertising material after providing her personal details to a hospitality business.

Nelson MLC Meg Webb said last week that she gave her information to the Hobart venue for contact-tracing purposes and received a promotional email from it the next day.

“I felt that was a bit of a grey area, something that needed to be clarified for businesses to ensure that when we’re leaving our details in relation to COVID-19 requirements, that we’re really clear as customers and businesses … in terms of what they can do with it and how it’s used,” she said at the time.

The Western Australian Government is considering using QR codes for contact tracing, meanwhile, businesses in the Northern Territory have been given the option of using QR codes or pen and paper to keep track of who enters venues.



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New coronavirus case at Melbourne early learning centre sparks contact tracing blitz

A new COVID-19 case in suburban Melbourne has sparked a major contact tracing blitz, with more than 90 people affected.

A young girl who attended the Goodstart Early Learning Centre in Bundoora is a confirmed positive case.

She is linked to the ongoing northern suburbs outbreak and was among three new Victorian positive cases announced on Thursday.

The other two are being investigated as potential historic infections.

The early learning centre has been listed as an exposure site by the Department of Education. Professor Euan Wallace from Monash Medical Centre said the facility had been closed from 25 October.

He added the child attended the centre on 20-22 October, and her mother was identified as a case on 25 October, with the child also testing positive on Wednesday.

Of 12 close contacts, he added nine have tested negative so far.

“In total though, there will be about 90 and perhaps a bit more now, secondary close contacts and they have been notified over the course of yesterday and today,” Professor Wallace said.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the child is not in hospital and is “faring well”.

There were no deaths on Thursday, leaving the state virus toll on 819 and the national figure at 907.

Also on Thursday, it was revealed the final report on Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine program has been delayed again by up to six weeks.

The Board of Inquiry will now deliver its interim findings on 6 November 6, which was the original date set down for the final report.

The interim report will contain recommendations for a proposed quarantine program, meaning Victoria could open up to international flights for the first time since early July.

The final report with a full set of recommendations and findings – such as who made the decision to hire private security and rebuff the Australian Defence Force’s help – will be delivered by 21 December. 

“It’s an independent board of inquiry entrusted with a very important task and there was no sense in my mind that we wouldn’t agree to the request they made,” Mr Andrews said.

Melbourne’s mystery cases for the fortnight to Monday rose by one to four.

The city’s rolling average dropped again to 2.4 and the corresponding figures for regional Victoria remain on none.

Meanwhile, the state’s oft-critiqued contact tracing regime will be put under the spotlight as the state seeks to remain open after a long COVID-19 lockdown ends.

State parliament’s upper house on Wednesday agreed to a motion, put forward by the opposition, to establish a parliamentary inquiry.

The inquiry will be carried out by the Legal and Social Issues Committee and hand down an initial report to the Legislative Council by 30 November, with a final report due by 14 December.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton said the state now has the best contact tracing system in the country, noting it had been forged in the second wave.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSW, VictoriaQueenslandWestern AustraliaSouth AustraliaNorthern TerritoryACTTasmania.



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Victoria has made ‘enormous’ improvements to its coronavirus contact tracing system, Australia’s Chief Scientist says


Australia’s Chief Scientist has commended Victoria for making “enormous” improvements to its contact tracing system during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the state grappled with its second wave, it was criticised for being too slow to identify and notify people who may have crossed paths with a positive coronavirus case.

In recent weeks however Victoria has expanded its approach by advising close contacts of close contacts connected to key outbreaks to get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate.

Dr Alan Finkel has been advising the State Government since August on modernising and digitising its processes.

“Improvements have been manifest across all of the system,” the Chief Scientist told Senate Estimates.

He said efficiencies and improvements had been made in workforce training and a shift from paper-based forms to fully digital processes.

“I can say with great confidence that the resources and personnel being applied to that task are significant, really substantial.

“The focus on improving the end-to-end process so cases don’t get lost in the system, so everyone gets followed up with minimal confusion as efficiently as possible — I’d say the effort being applied is enormous.”

Dr Finkel indicated that Victoria was achieving his target of notifying close contacts within 48 hours.

“I’m very comfortable with the performance of Victoria against that target,” he said.

When asked by Liberal senator James Patterson if Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton was right to claim that the state’s contact tracing system was the best in the country, Dr Finkel replied: “It’s not incorrect.”

“We need some more weeks of testing the system because it’s all very new, but by design and implementation it is very impressive,” Dr Finkel said.

Premier Daniel Andrews also insists the program is of a high standard.

Earlier on Tuesday, Victoria’s Parliament voted to establish an inquiry to assess if the state’s contact tracing system can cope in the event of another outbreak.

The inquiry will be chaired by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and is set to report back to the Parliament by November 30.

Ms Patten said the terms of reference of the probe were focused on the current system and how it could be improved.

“So this inquiry is specifically going to look at Victoria’s contact tracing and not so much what we’ve done in the past but what we’re doing now and to ensure it’s the best system for Victoria,” Ms Patten said.

“I think certainly there hasn’t been great confidence in our contact tracing in Victoria. I believe everybody would accept that it’s improved enormously in recent times.

“But this inquiry I hope will provide that confidence and assuredness to community and to business that we can open and continue to stay open.”



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