Coronavirus: Bluetooth a puzzle for thousands of COVID app users

Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the more we scan, the safer we'll all be.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield says the more we scan, the safer we'll all be. Photo credit: Unite against COVID-19 / Getty

By Charlie Dreaver for RNZ

Thousands of people have asked the Ministry of Health for help after having trouble enabling Bluetooth on the COVID-19 tracer app.

The NZ Covid Tracer app now has 2,514,708 registered users.

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said for those out and about this long holiday weekend it's more important than ever that people keep a record of where they've been.

"We continue to strongly encourage people to continue to scan using the NZ COVID Tracer app and turn on Bluetooth.

"The more we all scan, the safer we'll all be. Scanning helps our contact tracers to quickly find and alert any potential close and casual contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19," Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

However, about 20 percent of the country's cell phones can't use the Bluetooth function, due to it only working on certain operating systems.

To use Bluetooth tracing android phones need to be running Android 6 or above, and have Google Play Services enabled, and have Bluetooth Low Energy capability.

iPhones need to be running iOS 13.5 or above.

About 3500 queries have been received by the Ministry of Health from those having trouble enabling Bluetooth tracing.

The most common complaint is from users of iPhone 6 and older- making up about a third of those queries.

The Ministry of Health said it is looking at what is needed to update the NZ COVID Tracer app.

"Recently, Apple released support for the exposure notifications feature that enables Bluetooth tracing in iOS 12.5 which will run on iPhone 6.

"We are looking at what we need to do to update the NZ COVID Tracer app to support Bluetooth tracing on these older iPhones, but we don't currently have a timeframe for this," it said.

The Ministry also recommended that people with an Android 5 device use the Rippl app to scan QR codes and keep a digital diary.

"This is a privately-developed app, but it is also integrated with our contact tracing systems."

More details on enabling Bluetooth are available on the Ministry's website here.