A new contact tracing card will need to follow strict privacy standards if it is going to be trialled in Rotorua to give confidence to those using it, a Rotorua MP says.
But the Health Minister Chris Hipkins says the new CovidCard won't track users and would only be accessed if the card user was in close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case.
Meanwhile, the city's mayor Steve Chadwick will be "thrilled" to host the new trial and a local Labour MP says it could be "invaluable" to keep families safe and help with country's efforts to eliminate the virus.
The Government has announced it will trial a CovidCard in Rotorua with about 250 to 300 people to help with contact tracing.
TradeMe founder Sam Morgan was the public front of a group that developed the CovidCard.
It's the size of an office swipe card, about three times as thick, and worn around the neck on a lanyard. It would not track people, but keep a record of which other CovidCards were in the vicinity.
The cards could be deployed later this year, but ministers say they're not anticipating making them mandatory.
Minister of Government Digital Services Kris Faafoi said an earlier trial conducted in May by the University of Otago in conjunction with the Nelson Marlborough DHB found the CovidCard worked under controlled conditions.
Rotorua community leaders and iwi have been consulted, he said.
Rotorua's Todd McClay said privacy and security of data were "extremely important" and the Government needed to ensure the trial adhered to strict privacy standards, giving confidence to those taking part.
He said it was important more was done to improve the contact tracing systems.
While he said it was too early to comment on how he thought the card would be received, the current tracing app "does not appear to have had much uptake by New Zealanders".
This was concerning, he said, with contact tracing being a key tool in preventing further outbreaks of the virus.
However, Waiariki MP Tamati Coffey said the card was an opportunity to test further possible protection and could prove "invaluable" in protecting the health of families and contribute to New Zealand's efforts to eliminate Covid-19.
"New Zealand simply can't accommodate complacency."
Chadwick said she had said "we'd be thrilled to host the trial" when it was raised with her during a meeting with the Department of Internal Affairs chief executive Paul James.
She said anything to better prepare for a recurrence of community transmission in New Zealand would benefit Rotorua in the long run.
Hipkins said the Government was focused on keeping New Zealanders safe, and the card needed to meet high security and privacy standards.
"The CovidCard won't store any location data or track users. It blindly records the length and distance of its interaction with other cards up to 5m away."
The information would only be accessed by the Ministry of Health, "if – and only if – the card user is a close contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case and contact tracing is required".
Hipkins said there was no single technology to "solve" contact tracing that has been identified anywhere in the world.
"That's why we need to explore all available technology options," and improvements to the tracer app would continue.
Hipkins said initial assessments highlighted that the CovidCard could make "a real contribution" to New Zealand's contact tracing processes.
He said not only would the trial test the technology but also whether Kiwis were prepared to wear a lanyard around their necks at all times, which the technology required.
"Manual processes remain the critical component for contact tracing, however, we know digital solutions can help make contact tracing faster and more effective."
Hipkins said the trial was necessary to see ensure all the relevant information was being collected.
"If we were going to roll this out much more widely, there would be a huge investment required in it."
"This is important from a public health perspective and also in supporting our economic and social recovery," Hipkins said.
Victoria University of Wellington clinical psychologist Dr Dougal Sutherland said the card could reduce barriers for Kiwis to better engage in tracking their movements.
"At present, having to sign in or scan into a business, restaurant, etc, is a behaviour that most of us simply aren't in the habit of doing."
The alternative was to try change people's motivation to recording their whereabouts which he said seemed unlikely unless there was community transmission.
- Additional reporting NZ Herald