Test and trace troubles

In a week in which the US hit a milestone and recorded over 100,000 new COVID-19 cases in one day, there was far more positive news in these parts as Victoria recorded a full week with no new cases, in a very welcome sign that it has successfully cracked the second wave.

There will still be questions asked about the capacity of its test and trace regime, with the Victorian parliament's legal and social issues committee, chaired by cross-bench MP Fiona Patten, running an inquiry beginning on November 16.

"We want to assess how well the COVID-19 contact tracing system and testing regime are working and whether there are any improvements needed so that our community can be confident about the ongoing measures being taken to deal with this virus,” Ms Patten said.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton will probably be called to front the inquiry. Testing seems to be going well this week and Professor Sutton was able to congratulate Victoria's nostrils on their sterling efforts. Public hearings for the inquiry begin on November 16 and the committee will present its report by December 14.

There's no doubt that the federal government's COVIDSafe app will come under the spotlight, along with Victoria's original contact tracing system, which has recently been boosted by some extra digital support.

In our poll last week, we asked if you thought Australia's COVIDSafe app had delivered value for money. Not on your life, our readers say: just seven per cent said yes, 93 per cent said no.

It could have been worse, however. Take England, for example, where the NHS's experiments with contact tracing apps have been disastrous. As England heads back into lockdown, it was revealed by the Sunday Times that the much vaunted new Test and Trace app, which uses the Google and Apple exposure notification API, was failing to send alerts to people telling them to self-isolate.

That is in addition to last week's problem, when notifications kept disappearing when the app was opened. The Guardian was warning this week that thousands of people could have been put at risk due to the bug.

The problem with Australia's app is less that about bugs and more about the fact that it has just not been very useful. South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens joined the chorus of critics from last week, saying it had been of no material benefit to the state.

Other approaches to contact tracing, such as the QR code systems used in many cafes and restaurants across the country, do appear to be useful, with one Lebanese restaurant in Sydney shamed for not having one in place after a COVID case was traced back to the business. After months in lockdown, it beggars belief that Victoria did not have a mandatory digital system in place prior to easing restrictions, either from a commercial provider or an app similar to the one developed by Services NSW.

In more positive technology news, it was a week of multiple go-lives. eHealth NSW is beginning its big roll-out of the new Sectra medical imaging platform, which is due to be implemented in 55 hospitals in the next few years.

Latrobe Regional Hospital went live with its new EMR from Allscripts, thought to be the first EMR in Australia to incorporate Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. In New Zealand, the 180-clinic strong ProCare general practice group has set up a new telehealth service with health insurer Southern Cross in a sign that telehealth is very much here to stay.

That brings us to our poll for the week: Should Victoria have mandated a QR code check-in app for all businesses before easing restrictions?

Vote here and feel free to leave your comments below.

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