The federal government has scrapped its much-maligned COVIDSafe contact tracing app, with health minister Mark Butler deeming it “no longer required” to control the spread of the virus.
The Department of Health said COVIDSafe was “being decommissioned” in an update on the Apple and Google app stores on Tuesday afternoon, and asked users to begin uninstalling the app.
“This app is no longer being used in contact tracing,” release notes for the latest update on the COVIDSafe app listing reads.
“This update removes functionality of the app so no information is stored or collected. This will enable decommission process [sic] of COVIDSafe.”
When attempting to open the app, users are presented with a notice that reads: “Data is no longer collected and will be deleted from the national COVIDSafe data store”.
“Data on your devices will be deleted when you uninstall the app,” the notice reads, with users directed to a website to assist them to delete the app.
The government's decision to ditch COVIDSafe months after Australia embarked on a “normalisation agenda” appears to have come into effect on Sunday, following a seven-day grace period.
The Privacy (Public Health Contact Information) (End of the COVIDSafe data period) Determination 2022 was made on July 31, but only published on Tuesday.
“The health minister is satisfied that, by the day after the end of the period of seven days beginning on the day this instrument is registered, use of COVIDSafe is no longer required to prevent or control; the entry, emergence, establishment or spread of [Covid-19] into Australia,” it reads.
Before the election in May, a Labor-led senate committee called on the then government to cease funding for COVIDSafe, citing the app’s “high cost and significant limitations”.
As at October 2021, COVIDSafe had cost the government more than $9 million, including $2.77 million in Amazon Web Services hosting costs.
The report said COVIDSafe had not been used by state governments during the Delta outbreak in 2021 and that only 17 unique contacts had been identified using the app in 2020.
The Department of Health last year also conceded the app was “rarely” used, but at that time put that down to low community transmission rates and strong manual contact tracing.
But with average deaths increasing from around 20 a day to more than 70 in the months since the government ended its emergency pandemic powers, the government has finally come to the party.
COVIDSafe was launched to much fanfare in April 2020, with former Prime Minister Scott Morrison describing it as “like wearing sunscreen outside”, but it soon became a source of derision for the government.
Early on it became clear that encounter logging on iOS devices, particularly when COVIDSafe was running in the background, was problematic, an issue that persisted even after the app was updated with a new Bluetooth protocol.