Good progress on COVID-19 contact tracing

The final report of the Contact Tracing Assurance Committee (CTAC), led by Sir Brian Roche, has recognised progress made on New Zealand’s COVID-19 contact tracing systems.

The Committee was tasked with reviewing progress against the recommendations of an earlier, Verrall, report.

“The report concludes that New Zealand is now in an increasingly strong position, with an improved contact tracing regime,” Health Minister Chris Hipkins said.

“Work-ons in the report included scenario planning and system stress-testing, which the Ministry was in the final stages of planning until overtaken by real-life events in Auckland.

“More than two weeks on from the Auckland outbreak, contact tracing continues to be effective. As of yesterday, teams had identified 2,422 close contacts of cases, of which 2,368 had been moved into isolation.

“That’s a high strike rate, and while the figures vary day to day, the teams are consistently performing around the benchmark of 80% of close contacts identified and contacted in 48 hours.

“And there are now about 1500 people using the National Contact Tracing centre for the purpose of supporting contact tracing. This excludes management and supervisory roles,” Chris Hipkins said.

Another major recommendation was to encourage the role of technology to support contact tracing.

“Since then, we have made it mandatory for businesses to display QR codes for the NZ COVID tracer app and seen a marked increase in people downloading the app. Public transport will follow next week and further upgrades of the app are planned early next month.

“Trials are also in train for a new Bluetooth COVID card and a smartphone-based Bluetooth function.

“There are other important areas identified for improvement in the report, but they are beyond the scope of the contact tracing teams alone and are being considered separately. These are: clarity of accountabilities and decision rights, a fit for purpose project structure, a very active cross-Government approach, and a whole of system view.

“Overall, however, I am very encouraged by the way our contact tracing processes are working.

“The Ministry is innovating and responding quickly and I expect this culture of constant improvement will continue,” Chris Hipkins said.

A copy of the CTAC report, the Ministry’s response and other related documentation can be found on the Ministry of Health’s website.

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