Bluetooth- enabled COVID contact tracing card trial kicks off in Rotorua

New Zealand’s response to tackling COVID-19 reached another key milestone on Thursday 29 October. The “on-the-ground” phase of a community-based trial of a COVID contact tracing card in Ngongotahā was launched.

The Minister for Government Digital Services, Hon. Kris Faafoi and Te Arawa COVID Response hub kaumatua Dr Sir Toby Curtis and Monty Morrison officially launched the on-the-ground phase.

The trial

Between 500 and 1500 people are being sought to participate for the trial which involves them wearing the card for a week and as a result, providing their feedback on the experience. Participants will need to be over 19 years old and live and/or work in Ngongotahā.

It was co-designed by Te Arawa COVID Hub, the Ministry of Health and the Universities of Otago and Waikato. The trial’s purpose is to understand how a contact tracing card works in a real-world scenario.

“On behalf of Government, I acknowledge the commitment of the Ngongotahā community and local leaders to deliver this trial,” says Minister Faafoi.

“Their support and leadership of this trial will provide important help for the Government to decide if a card could be rolled out as a contact tracing option in New Zealand.”

The trial will also provide valuable insights into other viable options and technologies.

Te Arawa believes a contact tracing card could be an important addition to the pandemic toolbox.

Te Arawa COVID-19 Response Hub

Monty Morrison (Te Arawa COVID-19 Response Hub spokesperson), says the trial will help determine whether a contact tracing card is a more equitable, and therefore effective, contact-tracing solution for vulnerable communities.

“Tragically, we already know from experience that Māori are estimated to be 50 per cent more likely to die from COVID-19 than non-Māori.

“Effective contact-tracing could literally mean the difference between life and death for some of our whānau. We need to ensure we have the ability to identify potential contacts, and isolate people quickly as a result.

“Many koeke do not own smartphones. Large numbers of our whānau have an older phone that does not support the government’s contact tracing app.”

COVID contact tracing card details

The COVID contact tracing card can be worn on a lanyard or clipped to the wearer’s belt. It exchanges signals with anyone nearby who is also wearing a Card, in what can be described as “a digital handshake”. 

The contact tracing card is not capable of tracking the wearer’s location or identity. The information is fully contained and protected on each individual card. Its primary function is to build a memory of contacts so the wearer can be quickly alerted if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“There are no barriers to using a contact tracing card. It could be a critical tool for protecting our whānau, particularly our vulnerable kaumatua,” Mr Morrison says.

“The work that we in Ngongotahā – could make a meaningful difference for vulnerable communities across the country. We hope people will sign up to be involved. They will genuinely be doing their bit to help Aotearoa in its fight against COVID-19.

“We have held a series of hui with key Iwi and community leaders over the last week, and we are indeed thankful for their support.

NZ Deputy Director-General of Health

New Zealand Deputy Director-General of Health, Shayne Hunter, believes a contact tracing card is one of the technologies that has the potential to help New Zealand with contact tracing.

“COVID-19 is evolving and not going away. We must explore all options to protect our communities here in Aotearoa, and to prevent the need for further lockdowns,” says Mr Hunter.

He says the Ministry of Health is pleased Te Arawa has agreed to be intricately involved in the trial.

“Te Arawa knows the Ngongotahā community well and has the skills needed to support a successful trial” Mr Hunter says.

“The co-design process has included a series of hui with Iwi and community leaders. These local insights will be crucial to the success of the trial.”

The trial programme has been underway for months. The on-the-ground phase being the final part of the programme.

The cards will be live on-the-ground from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th November. People can sign-up online or register in person from Friday 30th October to Sunday 8th November. There are various locations in Ngongotahā.

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