Australia’s QR-check-in system is once again coming under scrutiny. The Victorian and New South Wales governments continue to insist that most venues force people to register their arrival via the QR system despite criticism mounting on its usefulness.
As positive cases rise into the thousands, an impracticable number of people have become ‘close contacts’, essentially breaking the functionality of the system as it did in the UK.
In an attempt to mitigate this impending failure of procedure, an emergency National Cabinet meeting re-defined ‘close contact’ to require someone to be in close proximity with a confirmed case for more than four hours. Only then is a person notified and required to isolate for seven days and have a rapid antigen test on day six.
While this reduces the load on the QR system, it also invalidates the purpose of its existence.
Its initial role was to track and trace the spread of the Covid outbreak. With the Omicron variant spreading more easily than Delta, using a less sensitive definition for ‘close contact’ renders the contact tracing operation pointless. Covid is spreading far beyond the scope of the system set up to track it – so why bother keeping the inconvenience in place?
New South Wales re-introduced the QR-check-in system (after previously dropping it) under pressure from political rivals and community fear. The result has been a great deal of frustration as people receive constant updates while going about their lives.
Bizarrely, and one might argue entirely nonsensically, the New South Wales Minister for Trade Stuart Ayres has defended the system, arguing that QR-check-ins were about ‘informing the community about where the [Covid] cases were’ – even when ‘the system was not triggering a contact-tracing response’.
Stuart Ayres did not clarify how someone could be informed of something that was not passed on to the end user.
Some experts have considered shelving the whole thing while Omicron is moving through the states and returning it to use at a later date if another Delta-like variant emerges.
“Once Omicron has passed, a new more virulent variant arises, then we may need them again in the future,” said Professor Tony Blakely from the University of Melbourne. “Perhaps [they] are still warranted in high-risk places like gyms and nightclubs, but not elsewhere.”
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee agrees in part, recommending that QR-check-ins be reviewed for lower-risk locations – although they continue to support their use in high-risk environments like hospitals.
This advice is falling on deaf ears, with the Victorian state government continuing to insist on the use of QR-check-ins at all locations.
“Checking in helps people know if they were at a venue at the same time as a positive Covid case,” said a spokesperson.
Even Queensland has partially given up, releasing a statement on their website saying that, “From 31 December 2021, we will only notify of major outbreak venues or super-spreader events in Queensland.”
The website went on to remind people that, “You need to consider any movement through the Queensland community as a risk for COVID-19 infection.”