Why contact tracing is here to stay
As 2020 comes to a close and we begin to imagine what a COVID-19 world may look like in 2021, one may think that contact tracing has fulfilled its purpose for society. But it is the preparation we put into refining our health and safety systems now through contact tracing that will enable us to better handle the future uncertainties we will undoubtedly face.
With many countries reeling off the back of the pandemic, it is fair to say that we were not prepared for the impacts such a disaster would have on our businesses, schools, livelihoods, wellbeing and general day-to-day lives.
While we can’t eliminate the virus completely — and with the current vaccines in the market not being able to definitively provide total immunisation — we can learn to navigate around its impact through the use of smart or technology-based contact tracing solutions.
Contact tracing refers to the process of identifying persons who may have come into contact with an infected subject and the subsequent collection of further information about these contacts. It is a key part to not only protecting our citizens, but also allowing businesses and organisations to open back up and trade at full capacity.
There are a number of contact tracing options currently in the market that aim to mitigate potential COVID-19 outbreaks, with each having their own respective strengths and weaknesses.
Many small businesses originally opted for a manual sign-in process in order to open up as quickly as possible. The overall inconvenience and tedious nature of this sort of program has inevitably given way to the entry of the QR code, a digital version of the same process that offers the user the chance to automate their details.
While QR codes are widely used across consumer-focused industries like retail and hospitality, they are reliant on human engagement and a commitment to ‘checking in’, despite not having a mandatory ‘check out’ component. As with concerns for app-based solutions, QR systems carry the same black cloud of uncertainty around data security, data privacy, and whether or not the QR system is compliant with the Australian Privacy Act and GDPR regulations.
Additionally, as the respondent for the QR contact tracing program typically lies with the Department of Health, positive cases may end up being notified several days later. This dilemma means the positive case has spent a substantial amount of time in the community and other establishments — which we know are breeding grounds for locally acquired transmission.
As a step further to the QR code, a number of smartphone-based tracing apps have also been introduced, with mixed reviews. For many, these options leave consumers with privacy concerns and some are dubious of the tracing accuracy these apps provide.
Contact tracing card solutions, such as Contact Harald, have seen industries from health care to manufacturing and corporate offices opt for the combination of Bluetooth and wearable tech to support their COVID-safe plans.
Having a wearable option for employees not only allows for the most accurate reading when it comes to early detection, it also creates a visual reminder for those that come into contact with their colleagues that their safety is front of mind, easing any anxieties that might arise when returning to work.
Ultimately, the solutions that will help Australia get back to business and quell further COVID-19 outbreaks have to be robust, include informed consent, and give the power of privacy, trust and reliability back into the hands of Australian businesses and consumers.
As far as predictions for 2021 and beyond, many see contact tracing as becoming more prevalent rather than less, with organisations incorporating technology more seamlessly into their day-to-day operations. The improvement of these tracing systems could result in further protection for our societies should we encounter a similar issue in the future.
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