NSW businesses have been encouraged to make use of new patron ‘check-in’ service embedded within the Service NSW app, giving state health authorities a valuable new data source for coronavirus contact tracing.
User data, including names, contact details as well as the time and location of customers’ visits, will be captured and saved within the app.
Records will be stored for 28 days and accessible for contact tracing by NSW Health officials, if needed, the Government said.
Once ‘checked in’ to a venue, patrons can be notified through the Service NSW app, or via phone or email should an outbreak be identified at the venue visited.
The new feature will also be used for customer check-ins at more than 100 Service NSW centres across the state.
Unlike the Australian Government’s own ‘set-and-forget’ COVIDSafe app, Service NSW’s ‘check-in’ function requires patrons to scan themselves in with the app via a QR code located at the entrance to business or Service NSW premises.
The COVIDSafe app, which has reportedly been downloaded more than 7 million times despite only identifying a handful of cases, has been criticised in some circles for its lacklustre technical capability and failures to correctly record interactions.
COVIDSafe, designed to run in the background of users’ phones, requires an active and reliable Bluetooth connection to effectively record physical contacts.
While Service NSW’s solution does require users to physically access the app each time they sign in to a venue, it does not rely on the ongoing functionality of the phone or app.
In lieu of a similar function, and in order to comply with public health orders on record keeping and state COVID Safe regulations, many businesses opted to adopt third-party sign-in solutions (including the pay-for Guest Check or Guest HQ) or manual pen and paper methods to capture guests’ details.
The Government said its new check-in function will provide a secure and “streamlined” alternative to these existing record-keeping systems, with customer details pre-filled data and ready to upload when users scan in.
An independent privacy review by the Government deemed the app appropriate for state-wide use following a successful trial in Dubbo involving more than 400 businesses.
COVID Safe businesses will, however, still need to maintain separate record-keeping for visitors who do not have the Service NSW app, or individuals from overseas or interstate, requiring the use of multiple sign-in methods.
As of September 2020, almost 2.2 million Service NSW customers have already downloaded the app, up from 1.7 million in August.
Beyond the new contact tracing service, the multi-faceted Service NSW app is also used for storing various accreditations and state government credentials, including digital licences, RSA/RCG Certifications and Working With Children Check clearances.
Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello urged NSW residents to download the latest app update, stressing “the technology would make life easier for business and customers”.
While businesses and customers are under no obligation to use the app, several industries, including hospitality services, a required to comply with public health orders keeping accurate records of visitors to their premises.
“Customers can already use their Service NSW app to complete a number of transactions, so it makes sense for them to be able to use it to check-in to venues as well,” Dominello said.
Service NSW said its app feature is designed to complement, and not supersede, the Australian Government’s existing COVID Safe app.
The Service NSW app can be downloaded via the Apple App Store or Google Play.