Coronavirus: Sam Morgan pulls the plug on CovidCard, claims Ministry of Health isn't taking it seriously

Trade Me founder Sam Morgan has given up on making his coronavirus tracking technology happen in New Zealand, citing frustration at the attitude of health officials.

The tech entrepreneur's CovidCard - a low-energy device that detects and keeps a record of close contacts for 21 days - was seen as the country's most promising alternative to the Government's much-maligned COVID Tracer app.

But Morgan has now pulled the CovidCard team away from the project, complaining that the Ministry of Health has resisted rolling out the technology for several months.

Morgan's stand-down message to his team comes just before two trials of the technology were set to get underway - one in the Rotorua community and another at an unnamed managed isolation facility.

Megan Woods, the Minister in charge of Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ), says Morgan's withdrawal would have no effect on the latter trial.

"We are working through where that trial will be," she told media from a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

"We have a couple of contenders of isolation facilities where it will be useful as a tool to track contacts within a facility, but that is quite separate from the Rotorua trial."

Morgan had earlier explained his decision to drop the CovidCard project came after becoming frustrated with the Ministry of Health.

"The CovidCard Team - the private sector people - have all stood down from any involvement because we see no pathway to success in the way this is being done," he told NZME.

"There is no capability or commitment within the Ministry of Health to do it… There is, in fact, active resistance and has been since we began."

ACT Party leader David Seymour says Morgan's withdrawal is yet another example of the Government floundering on the issue of contact tracing.

"In early April, we called for the Government to consider adopting Bluetooth technology for contact tracing. Australia's Bluetooth solution was in place four months ago," he said.

"Instead, we have a completely inadequate COVID Tracer app.

"As a result, the Government has been unable to meet Dr Ayesha Verrall’s recommendations that it needs to be able to identify the proportion of close contacts found by the tracing app."

For now, New Zealanders must make do with the COVID Tracer app, which has been criticised for its manual diary entry-style recording system and poor uptake from Kiwis until the latest resurgence of the virus.

As of Tuesday, there are now more than 2 million registered users - equivalent to half the country's population aged 15 and over. Before lockdown, there were less than 650,000.

Last month, Health Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed the Government would trial the CovidCard and said a decision on whether to deploy it would be made later this year. 

"While manual processes remain the critical component for contact tracing, we know digital solutions can help make contact tracing faster and more effective," Hipkins said.

The Health Minister said no single technology to solve contact tracing had been identified anywhere in the world, which is why the Government would explore all available technology options.