Health Minister Chris Hipkins not ruling out forcing businesses to use COVID Tracer App

Health Minister Chris Hipkins is not ruling out forcing businesses to provide QR codes for the COVID Tracer App because the number of scans to date is "not enough" to contact trace if a new outbreak emerged. 

"We can't be complacent and we do need to be prepared if new cases of COVID-19 were to emerge in our community," Hipkins told reporters on Wednesday, as the Ministry of Health reported two new cases of COVID-19 at the border. 

"If that was to happen tomorrow, based on the number of poster scans we are seeing, not enough New Zealanders would be able to remember their movements for us to efficiently trace who has been exposed to the virus," he said. 

"We can all play a role in doing something about that so my message to all New Zealanders is please step up your efforts, scan wherever you go and keep a record of your movements.

"If the virus was to re-emerge within our communities, we cannot afford there to be any delay and we need people to be able to record where they have been so that contact tracing can happen as quickly as possible."

The NZ COVID Tracer has recorded 596,000 registrations so far - that's about 12 percent of New Zealand's population of 5 million people. The number of posters created is 77,928.

Hipkins said the Government is getting advice from ministries about how to improve the uptake of both the posters and also getting people to use the posters. 

He's not ruling out forcing all businesses to provide a QR code. 

"I wouldn't rule that out. Obviously we're going to be considering a range of different options. I haven't had that advice yet," Hipkins said. "If we'd been able to get it out earlier that would have been helpful."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Kiwis need to take some accountability. 

"Even if you put that responsibility on the business it's still the person walking into the business who's scanning or writing down their details," she said. 

"In all of this there is an element of personal responsibility here. We need New Zealanders to acknowledge it is their responsibility to keep track of where they are going and to support our response."

National leader Judith Collins said she tried using the app but it didn't work. 

"If I'm having trouble with it, probably quite a few people are," she said. "I tried to use it about two weeks ago and then I thought, 'Oh, come on' - I couldn't even make it work.... I thought the borders are secure, aren't they?"

The Government put $93 million into the health sector last month, $37 million going to COVID-19 testing and $10 million for ventilator and respiratory equipment. 

It followed a $55 million investment in the country's contact tracing system to boost Public Health Units (PHUs) following an independent review recommending it. 

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said he wants use of the app to become a habit. But he's confident the health system can cope. 

"We just need to normalise it. This is going to be with us for a while - let's just get used to using it. I am confident because of the additional capacity we have built in the public health units as well as our national contact tracing capacity."

Hipkins said he understands that using the app might not feel like a priority for Kiwis now that we're at alert level 1. 

"When you look at when we released the app we'd already started to regain our freedom at that point and so I think there is a degree of complacency there," he said. 

"Life is back to normal for the vast bulk of New Zealanders and so this is not necessarily front-of-mind for them - it's certainly front-of-mind for us here, though, because the risk has not gone away.

"We're not blaming anybody for this but now is the time to be vigilant, download the app, sign up and use it."