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Ministry of Health successfully completes COVID-19 tracing technology trial

New Zealand is leading the way in its COVID-19 response, recently successfully completing a tracing technology trial.

The background of the trial

The New Zealand Ministry of Health, the New Zealand Government's principal advisor on health and disability, completed the community-led Bluetooth contact tracing technology trial in Rotorua.

The purpose was to gauge whether people will accept and use the Bluetooth cards, and how and when they will use them, as well as testing the effectiveness of the technology itself.

Designed in preparation for a real-world outbreak scenario, the wearable card was made available to the Ngongotah community, near Rotorua.

The widely accepted project was led by Te Arawa COVID Hub in partnership with the Ministry.

The Bluetooth card trial was co-designed and implemented by Te Arawa and the Ministry of Health and the Universities of Otago and Waikato and Australian contact tracing technology company Contact Harald.

How the tracing system and technology works

In the event of a suspected or confirmed case, the Contact Harald tracing system can notify only those with recorded close contact - this advancement could enable other locations or even subsections of each community to stay open with minimal disruption.

The card records and stores interactions that last over two minutes and occur within a 1.5-metre radius.

The Ministry’s deputy director-general of data and digital, Shayne Hunter says, "The community trial of the Bluetooth cards has been successful, with the insights we’ve gained into how people use the cards as well as a better understanding of how the card technology can support contact tracing.

"Bluetooth cards have the potential to help contact tracing go faster as one of a number of technology solutions alongside the Government's contact tracing app, although it is clear that interoperability is key to ensuring effectiveness."

Hunter says, "A key benefit of the cards, along with other wearable technologies, is that they could allow people who don’t have smartphones to protect themselves and their communities.

"The experience of partnering with Te Arawa COVID-19 Response Hub has also been incredibly positive, and has highlighted the importance of building trust within communities to help with supporting uptake and use of contact tracing technologies."

The role of Contact Harald

Contact Harald co-founder and head of product Matt Denton says, "As we move towards a COVID-normal, we need to implement solutions that ensure we can keep everyone safe - particularly through contact tracing tools.

"Contact Harald provides an equitable solution that allows communities to continue going about their daily lives without the threat of their entire population going into lockdown.

"It's been a pleasure working with the New Zealand Ministry of Health and Te Arawa COVID-19 Response Hub on this important project, which is a great example of accessible solutions."

Denton says, "It was great to see our product welcomed by the local community as we continue to work with governments on a global scale and encourage their respected citizens to return to COVID-normal lives."

"Contact Harald is built from best practice, simple and smart technology to map, manage and minimise the impact of outbreaks for communities and businesses alike.

"If an outbreak were to occur, particularly in a population with the elderly or vulnerable, it's important we act fast to manage and mitigate the outbreak, whilst not inciting unnecessary fear throughout the wider community," Denton says.

Contact Harald is currently being used in Australia and globally by large, multi-national organisations across a variety of industries that include construction, aged care, manufacturing, entertainment and mining.