The Victorian government is developing a specific QR code check-in system that hospitality and retails stores will be asked to use so data can be easily linked to the state’s new contact tracing system to quickly track Covid cases.
Melbourne came out of lockdown this week and restaurants, bars, cafes and shops were allowed to open for the first time in nearly four months. Venues are expected to keep a record of who has visited, and when, so contact tracers can find people who were there at the same time as someone later discovered to have been infectious.
Like other jurisdictions around Australia, there has been a lack of consistency as to how businesses record people’s details. Some use pen and paper while many use a QR code that people scan using the camera on their phone that directs them to a Google form to fill out or a third-party website that collects details on the business’s behalf.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said the state will move to a universal QR code check-in system currently being developed that will integrate into the Salesforce contact tracing system.
“You have to build one that works seamlessly with the new IT platform we have built that has helped deliver the numbers and to an end – not doing pen and paper long-form interviews,” he said on Wednesday.
When asked on Thursday why the government wasn’t adopting the government apps used in the ACT and New South Wales, Andrews said the new system had to be designed to integrate into the new contact tracing system. He rejected criticism the system should have been ready for this week’s reopening.
“This has had some very special attention and I would normally be a fan of buying something off the shelf, because normally they are a less risky thing to do, however, when you build something that is new and fit-for-purpose and bespoke for us and it is then judged to be the best in the country and one of the best in the world, it is appropriate that the different inputs and pathways into that system have to be perfectly compatible with that system,” the Labor leader said.
Andrews said a universal QR code system would ensure issues around privacy and the use of data were addressed.
“People have every right to be ... not concerned but to be mindful of those things and to make sure that we get them right,” Andrews said.
Questions have been asked about whether businesses can adequately store people’s personal details – and only for the length of time required. Another concern raised is whether people are being signed up for marketing mailing lists by venues using their own system.
The premier did not name a date for when the new universal system would be available to businesses but said he would make an announcement “soon”.
New South Wales and the ACT have government apps for check-ins but are yet to make it mandatory for businesses to use that specific app. However, NSW is considering making it compulsory to make it easier for the health department to quickly trace close contacts.
“We appreciate there are also QR codes that exist which businesses have established themselves. But our ability to manage cases improves if it’s done through Service NSW,” the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said earlier this month.
Australia’s chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday he was comfortable with the improvements Victoria had made with its contact tracing system. He said the “design and implementation is very impressive” but he would need to wait a few weeks to see if it was one of the best in the country.
The Victorian parliament has set up an inquiry into the state’s contact tracing system to report back at the end of November.