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The Victorian government will now require people to check in at retail stores and supermarkets regardless of the length of time they spend in the store, as new data reveals a huge increase in check-ins to the Service Victoria app once the state forced businesses to begin using it.
As part of the extension of the lockdown in Melbourne, the acting premier, James Merlino, announced on Wednesday that supermarkets and retailers would be required to make everyone check in when they entered into the store. Previously it was only a recommendation.
After the state recorded a number of Covid-19 transmissions at retail stores where the contacts had “fleeting” contact, Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the change was to ensure records of everyone at potential exposure sites were complete.
“We are in a position now where the Victorian community is motivated to do the right thing and they understand the importance of contact tracing in this space,” he said.
“And even though we have been doing really well in identifying people at all exposure sites, I think everyone recognises that we have to do absolutely everything in our power to be able to chase down every single person who may be exposed because it is that one person who is not found who may be the one who spreads it.”
The Victorian government launched its Covid QR-code check-in app, Service Victoria, at the end of November 2020 but continued to allow hospitality venues to to use their own QR-code systems to record people visiting.
However, since the end of March, third-party app providers have been required to use the government application programming interface, meaning all the check-in data across the state goes to the one government-held database when contact tracers need it, regardless of which app is used.
The Service Victoria app then became mandatory for all businesses to use from Friday 28 May – coincidentally the first day Victoria entered a one-week lockdown due to a Covid-19 outbreak.
Data obtained by Guardian Australia reveals a significant increase in check-ins to the Service Victoria app in May as businesses began to transition to the single app.
The state had 18m check-ins between 13 and 31 May, out of 39m in total since the app was launched at the end of November 2020.
Victoria’s app still has recorded far fewer check-ins than its counterpart in New South Wales, where the Service NSW app has been mandatory since 1 January.
NSW reported 50.6m for the month of May alone – a 2.3m increase on check-ins over April, which had 48.3m. But that latest figure is still significantly lower than the peak of 66m check-ins when the state made the Service NSW app mandatory in January.
Queensland’s Check In Qld app has recorded 45m check-ins since it was launched on 28 February. The app became mandatory for hospitality venues at the start of May, and a spokesperson for the Queensland Department of Communities said there had been significant growth in the number of check-ins at venues, recording a 17% increase in the week to 28 May and a 20% increase the week before.
The ACT, which has an estimated population of just over 460,000, has recorded close to 13m check-ins since the start of this year.
For a broader comparison, Guardian Australia sought a breakdown of total check-ins from all apps into the Victorian government’s server since it became mandatory to feed into the one system, but the Department of Health only provided data from the Service Victoria app.
There has been concern that enforcement of Covid-19 check-ins has not been as strong in Victoria as in other states where it is mandatory. Early last month contact tracers had to find dozens of people who dined at the same restaurant as the Wollert man who is at the centre of the current Covid-19 outbreak but did not check in.
In a three-week blitz on Victorian businesses in April, authorised officers found 37% of the more than 4,000 businesses visited were non-compliant with QR-code check-in rules. There were 165 enforcement notices issued and 300 verbal warnings given for the range of Covid rules not being enforced.
Police can fine individuals up to $1,652 and businesses $9,913 for failing to comply with Covid-19 rules in the public health directions.
Victoria’s health minister, Martin Foley, said last week that QR codes gave contact tracers “the certainty they need” and people should check in at venues where they spent 15 minutes or longer.
The QR-code check-in system has become the dominant method for contact tracers to find potential close contacts during outbreaks. When asked on Monday whether the federal government’s $7m Covidsafe contact-tracing app had been used to identify close contacts in Victoria’s latest outbreak, Foley said he didn’t believe so.
“No, not to my knowledge, and I‘m sure in such a rare event it would have been brought to my attention.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Victoria makes Covid check-in mandatory at shops after transmissions from ‘fleeting’ visits | Health