Coronavirus: Government selects Rotorua for 'CovidCard' contact tracing technology trial

Rotorua has been selected by the Government for a community-wide trial of 'CovidCard' technology which detects and records close contacts using Bluetooth. 

Since March, Trade Me founder Sam Morgan has been working as part of a team to test the ability of 'CovidCard' technology, a low-energy device about the size of a credit card. 

The device is designed to be worn on a lanyard around the neck when in areas such as public transport, workplaces, bars, restaurants and gyms. The device detects and keeps on it a record of close contacts for 21 days. 

Health Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed on Thursday the Government will trial the technology as it explores options for COVID-19 contact tracing, and a decision on whether to deploy it will 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. This is important from a public health perspective and also in supporting our economic and social recovery."

He said no single technology to solve contact tracing has been identified anywhere in the world, which is why the Government will explore all available technology options. 

"We are continuing to improve the NZ COVID Tracer app, which includes looking at how technologies like Bluetooth can be utilised to further support contact tracing and have also been investigating the proposed CovidCard."

Digital Services Minister Kris Faafoi said the Government funded an assessment by the University of Otago during lockdown that highlighted the CovidCard could make a contribution to New Zealand's contact tracing processes.

"The trial found the CovidCard works under controlled conditions, so we believe there is merit in exploring it further," Faafoi said. "After consultation with community leaders and iwi, we have selected the Rotorua region for a further trial involving around 250-300 people."

Faafoi said the research will help to understand how the cards would work in a real-world scenario, whether they are compatible with the current contact tracing systems, and whether the public would accept and use the cards.

Any decision on whether to deploy the CovidCard will be made later this year, and at this stage it is not anticipated that the CovidCard would be mandatory.

The Government has been encouraging the use of its NZ COVID Tracer app that has so far recorded more than 637,000 registered users.

The app has been criticised for not being used widely enough. The Ministry of Health on Thursday said it has received feedback that some businesses have stopped displaying their QR codes.

Every organisation that has generated a code is being contacted and asked to provide another copy of their poster along with guidance on where to display it.

Newshub revealed last week that the Government considered making use of QR codes mandatory - but officials said it couldn't be justified.

It has been 97 days since the last case of COVID-19 was acquired locally from an unknown source in New Zealand.