Covid 19 coronavirus contact tracing: Auto check-ins trialled in Wellington

Our Team of Five Million is just not using the NZ Covid Tracer app to scan QR codes outside shops, cafes and workplaces.

Ministry of Health data indicates that some kind of automated tracking is needed.

On Thursday and Friday last week, for example, after the Vincent St scare, and a full-court press of politicians, experts and social media encouraging people to scan, numbers were better. On Friday, there were 1.2 million scans via 509,780 active app users. But that’s still only about 10 per cent of us.

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The following Saturday, only 344,288 used NZ Covid Tracer, scanning a total of 650,868 QR code posters.

The Government is now mulling a regulatory move: making poster-scanning compulsory, and is on the verge of turbo-charging the NZ Covid Tracer app by integrating Apple and Google’s auto-tracking and exposure notification feature.

But the more tools in the Government’s toolbox, the better.

Wellington app maker Paper Kite – recently appointed as a Ministry of Health National Contact Tracing Integration Partner – is trialling an automated check-in system.

It involves low-cost Bluetooth beacons – low-power, egg-sized transmitters that can be placed at the entrance to a business. As a punter comes in the door, the beacon transmits to the tracer app on their phone, automatically checking them in.

There’s nothing new to this technology. Bluetooth beacons (which cost as little as $5) were developed in the 2000s for the spammy purpose of sending marketing messages to someone’s smartphone when they walked into, or past, a shop.

Unsurprisingly, that use-case didn’t prove popular. But reinvented for Covid-19 auto check-ins, it’s looking suddenly very useful (see video above).

The Bluetooth Beacons are currently being trialled at four locations in the capital: Paper Kite’s office, Peoples Coffee in Lukes Lane, craft beer bar Hashigo Zake in Taranaki St and at the Beervana festival that runs over the next two days.

Paper Kite is already known as the maker of the Rippl app, which has API (application programming interface) integration with the MoH’s NZ Covid Tracer app.

In everyday terms, that means “users of the Rippl app are already able to receive NZ Covid Tracer contact alerts and will soon be able to share their check-in history digitally with the ministry when required for contact tracing,” Paper Kite chief executive Antony Dixon says.

“PaperKite is now taking this one step further by trialling an automatic check-in feature that uses Bluetooth beacons. This functionality allows Rippl users who have Bluetooth enabled to check in to select locations without needing to physically scan the QR codes.

“The results of the trial will inform a decision on any further rollout of the beacons.”

Rippl has had several tens of thousands of downloads, and it’s been boosted by becoming one of the few services to earn Trust Mark certification from the Privacy Commissioner.

All going well, the auto check-in technology should considerably raise the app’s profile, and Dixon is continuing to closely co-ordinate with the MoH.

“The partnership with the Ministry of Health has given us further confidence to continue investing in technology to help the New Zealand public health system. We believe this is a great example of the value of public-private partnerships,” Dixon says.

The Paper Kite boss favours a broad church approach, saying he also supports the Covid Card trial now underway in Rotorua (see the Ministry of Health’s latest update on that controversial initiative here).

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