The federal government should stop all funding for its ailing COVIDSafe contact tracing app, a Labor-led Senate committee has found.
The finding is contained in the final report of a Senate inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, which also called for greater data sharing between governments.
The report [pdf]released Thursday afternoon, said COVIDSafe had been “strongly criticized for its high cost and significant limitations as a practical contact tracing measure.”
He cites reports that the app was not used by state governments during the Delta outbreak last year, and a study showing that it detected only 17 unidentified contacts by d other means in New South Wales in 2020.
The committee said the government also did not provide an update on the number of additional contacts identified and suggested it was a state government responsibility.
Other concerns raised during the investigation were the app’s “reliance on Bluetooth…as an effective proxy for close contacts” and “settings that do not account for Covid variants. -19”.
With its limited use since the start of the pandemic and officials suggesting no updates were forthcoming, the committee said “future use of the COVIDSafe app appears uncertain.”
“By not acknowledging flaws in the app or seeking to fix the app, the government has continued to oversee an app that is not fit for purpose, cost millions of dollars and offered limited public value,” he said.
The committee recommended that the “government cease further expenditure of public funds for the failure of the COVIDSafe app”.
Last week, the Ministry of Health said iTnews the government has “no intention of shutting down the app”, despite the fact that the pandemic powers that initially governed its use will soon come to an end.
By October, the app had cost more than $9 million, including $2.77 million in Amazon Web Services hosting fees.
The monthly cost of running COVIDSafe is between $75,000 and $60,000, up from $100,000 at the start of 2021. The Digital Transformation Agency previously declined to release a cost breakdown.
The committee also recommended that the government “review and strengthen the intergovernmental agreement on data sharing between the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments”.
He said this would “address any gaps in access to timely and relevant data – particularly related to public health and care for the elderly”.
The agreement, which aims to make more data available to all jurisdictions for policy-making and service delivery purposes, was only signed in July 2021.