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CovidCard to be trialled in isolation facilities

The CovidCard contact tracing technology will be trialled in a managed isolation facility, with an eye towards rolling it out to all such facilities over coming months, Marc Daalder reports

The Government will launch a pilot of the CovidCard contact tracing tool in a managed isolation facility, Housing Minster Megan Woods has announced.

Woods, who is responsible for the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system, mentioned the pilot as part of a broader suite of reforms to boost security in the 32 facilities across New Zealand, with an estimated cost of $6 million.

The pilot would be undertaken "with a view to a wider roll out in the coming months. This technology will add a layer of assurance to ensure we can track movements within facilities to enable rapid contact tracing, and builds on the various other initiatives we have been rolling out to minimise risk of an outbreak coming from our facilities."

Already, the CovidCard has undergone two technical trials in May, which Government Digital Services Minister Kris Faafoi said had proven the technology works. A third trial involving 250 to 300 people in Rotorua was announced on August 6, aiming to see whether people would voluntarily wear the Bluetooth-enabled dongle and how it might integrate into the country's existing contact tracing systems.

The original CovidCard proposal was costed at $100 million to give a device to every New Zealander. The full rollout would take 24 weeks, according to a pitch document viewed by Newsroom.

Woods did not explain why the CovidCard would be useful in MIQ facilities. 

Other security improvements at the MIQ facilities would include, where feasible, the rollout of thermal CCTV cameras which would trigger an alarm if someone escaped, CCTV cameras in hallways and public spaces to monitor whether people come in contact with each other when they shouldn't, and more robust electronic access systems to track and restrict access to certain areas.

"Managed isolation and quarantine facilities are commercial hotels with security systems that support the hotel function but there is room to improve these systems to better protect our communities from Covid-19," Woods said.

"“Keeping Covid-19 at the border is a priority for the Government and these security enhancements are another tool in our toolbox to ensure returnees stay in the facilities and limit risk to the community. While no system is foolproof these additional security arrangements add an extra layer of protection to help keep COVID at the border."

Woods said the added surveillance capabilities would only be installed in public spaces, not private rooms, to respect the privacy of residents.

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