Coronavirus: New Zealanders having 'difficulties' scanning QR code posters with COVID Tracer app

The launch of the Government's NZ COVID Tracer app has been met with a number of complaints since its release, with some New Zealanders reporting faulty QR codes and bugs in the software.

The app, launched on Wednesday, creates a 'digital diary' of the places Kiwis visit by scanning QR codes displayed at the entrances to various places. Any information recorded with the app will be stored securely on the user's phone and deleted automatically after 31 days. 

During Tuesday's daily press briefing, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed that roughly 405,000 New Zealanders have downloaded the app, which is designed to help with contact tracing efforts. Contact tracing allows contacts of an existing case to be found quickly and efficiently, ensuring they are tested and self-isolate. 

About 15,500 businesses have generated an official QR code poster for customers to scan so far, although the Ministry of Health is encouraging all businesses to have a poster in-store. 

However, some New Zealanders say they are having difficulty scanning the codes, leading to frustration among app users. Other common complaints include issues with registration. 

"Wow this NZ Covid Tracer App is clunky. Took me a few tries and a restart to get through registration. Glad the gig went to an NZ agency, but damn guys... Hope there are some quick updates coming," one man tweeted. 

"236,000 Kiwis have downloaded the COVID Tracer app, but no business that I've been to (all with QR codes) supports it. Everybody requires a different app," another said last week. 

Speaking to The AM Show on Tuesday morning, Dr Bloomfield acknowledged the app has a "few problems" but glossed over the complaints as teething problems.

"The good thing is we're getting feedback and doing new releases all the time to solve any problems that appear," he said. 

The health official confirmed the most common complaints the Ministry of Health has received are to do with difficulties registering personal details and the QR posters.

"Some phone users are having trouble with registering their details and we're working on resolving those. We have had some feedback on the actual QR posters. Once we get the feedback, we can work with MB to identify if there are any issues and get those addressed.

"We're constantly getting feedback... all companies who have apps are constantly doing updated releases."

He reiterated the same point during the press conference, saying: "Every report we get, we look into - whether it relates to loading the app, registering or the use of the app. If there are any problems with the codes, we will look into those. There are various channels for providing feedback... they are all looked at. We will fix any bugs in the system, but I ask people to persevere."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson confirmed to Newshub that the ministry "is aware that some people are having difficulties scanning QR codes" with the app. However, he implied that some New Zealanders may be scanning the wrong posters. 

"This is because the app is designed to work with the official QR codes only. The app will not work with other QR codes," the spokesperson said.

He says all official NZ COVID Tracer QR code posters will include:

 

  • the Unite against COVID-19 and Ministry of Health logos
  • the text 'SCAN HERE TO SIGN-IN WITH THE NZ COVID TRACER APP' above the QR code
  • the business name and address immediately under the QR code
  • the text 'Sign-in. Stop the virus' below the QR code area
  • do not display any website URLs
  • and will not direct the user to any websites when scanned.

"New Zealanders who visit businesses that do not display the official QR code poster should make sure to follow the contact tracing processes put in place by that business," the spokesperson said.

Roughly 25 percent of all businesses deemed as "active" under the alert level 2 restrictions have got a QR poster up in-store, he said on Tuesday, the majority of which are hospitality venues or retail outlets. 

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said the retail association has also received reports of QR codes not scanning properly for app users. 

"However, for most general retail stores, there is no requirement to contact trace customers, so not all businesses will have a QR code available," he told Newshub.

"Where practical, retailers are instead required to maintain a two-metre distance between customers."

He says for hospitality venues or personal care services, such as beauty parlours, contact tracing is mandatory. As the COVID Tracer app is not compulsory, some of these businesses may not have a QR code poster - but they should have another form of customer registration in place. 

"Alternatives could be an existing booking system, or a manual sign-in process on site," Harford explained.

Contact tracing is imperative to the COVID-19 response as it allows health officials to locate contacts of a confirmed or probable case, meaning there is a greater chance they can be tested and required to self-isolate before they can transmit the virus to another person. 

On Friday, the Opposition labelled the app as "pointless", with National health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse saying it doesn't fulfil its purpose.

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