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Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing card trial kicks off in Rotorua

New Zealand’s response to tackling COVID-19 reached another key milestoneon Thursday with the launch of the 'on-the-ground' phase of a community-based trial of a COVID contact tracing card in NgongotahƒÅ, a suburb of Rotorua.

The on-the-ground phase was officially launched by Minister for Government Digital Services, Hon. Kris Faafoi and Te Arawa COVID Response hub kaumatua Dr Sir Toby Curtis and Monty Morrison.

Between 500 and 1500 people are being sought to participate for the trial which will involve them wearing the card for a week and providing their feedback on the experience. Participants will need to be over 19 years old and live and/or work in Ngongotahā.

Co-designed by Te Arawa COVID Hub, the Ministry of Health and the Universities of Otago and Waikato, the trial’s purpose is to understand how a contact tracing card works in a real-world scenario, whether it is compatible with New Zealand’s contact tracing systems, and if people will accept and use them.

“On behalf of Government, I acknowledge the commitment of the NgongotahƒÅ community and local leaders to deliver this trial,” says Minister Faafoi.

“Their support and leadership of this trial will provide important help for the Government to decide if a card could be rolled out as an additional contact tracing option to benefit all of Aotearoa/New Zealand.”

The trial will also provide valuable insights into other viable options and technologies and ensure comprehensive coverage across Aotearoa and all communities.

Importantly, Te Arawa believes a contact tracing card could be a critical addition to the pandemic toolbox to help protect vulnerable whānau from COVID-19.

Te Arawa COVID-19 Response Hub spokesperson Monty Morrison says the trial will help determine whether a contact tracing card is a more equitable, and therefore effective, contact-tracing solution for vulnerable communities.

“Tragically, we already know from experience that MƒÅori are estimated to be 50 per cent more likely to die from COVID-19 than non-MƒÅori.

“Effective and efficient contact-tracing could literally mean the difference between life and death for some of our whƒÅnau, and we need to ensure we have the ability to identify potential contacts, and reach and isolate people quickly.

“Many koeke do not own smartphones and large numbers of our whƒÅnau have an older phone that does not support the government’s contact tracing app.”

The COVID contact tracing card can be worn on a lanyard or clipped to the wearer’s belt. It exchanges signals with anyone nearby who is also wearing a card, in what can be described as “a digital handshake”.

The contact tracing card is not capable of tracking the wearer’s location or identity and the information is fully contained and protected on each individual card. Its primary function is to build a memory of contacts so the wearer can be quickly alerted if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“There are no barriers to using a contact tracing card, so it could be a critical tool for protecting our whƒÅnau, particularly our vulnerable kaumatua,” Monty says.

“The work that we do now – in NgongotahƒÅ – could make a meaningful difference for vulnerable communities and New Zealanders across the country. We hope people will sign up to be involved – they will genuinely be doing their bit to help Aotearoa in its fight against COVID-19.

“We have held a series of hui with key Iwi and community leaders over the last week, and we are indeed thankful for their support

New Zealand Deputy Director-General of Health, Shayne Hunter believes a contact tracing card is one of the technologies that has the potential to help New Zealand with contact tracing.

COVID-19 is evolving and not going away – we must explore all options to protect our communities here in Aotearoa, and to prevent the need for further lockdowns,” says Shayne.

He says the Ministry of Health is pleased Te Arawa has agreed to be intricately involved in the trial.

“Te Arawa knows the NgongotahƒÅ community better than anyone and has all the skills and experience needed to support a successful trial from beginning to end."

“The co-design process has included a series of hui with Iwi and community leaders, and these local insights will be crucial to the success of the trial.”

The trial programme has been underway for many weeks and months, with the on-the-ground phase being the final part of the programme.

The cards will be live on-the-ground from Monday, November 9 to Sunday, November 15. People can sign-up online or register in person from Friday, October 30, to Sunday, November 8 at various locations in Ngongotahā.

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