Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that there was ‘enthusiasm’ for the Government to continue looking into the CovidCard proposal, Marc Daalder reports

The CovidCard is still on the cards.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, speaking during her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, told reporters “there is enthusiasm for us to keep exploring this option” of a CovidCard.

“Work has been under way. [Communications Minister Kris] Faafoi is continuing to take these potential proposals forward,” she said.

The proposal to give every New Zealander a Bluetooth-enabled, credit card-sized device that they could optionally use to aid with contact tracing was first reported by Newsroom in April. The plan would cost $100 million and require several rounds of testing first.

After that, as New Zealand’s case numbers rapidly decelerated to zero, little more was heard of the CovidCard. The Government released an app but has done little to support or encourage the uptake of QR codes by businesses or the app by individuals.

Then, on Monday morning, Newsroom reported the CovidCard had been trialled at Nelson Hospital in early May and Government officials had reached out to individuals in the tech sector to carry out an independent, third-party review of the idea.

“The appeal of the CovidCard approach is that you have purpose-built hardware that can’t, like an app, lead to scope creep. It is being built for one task, and the task is proximity contact tracing,” Brainbox Institute public policy and technology expert Tom Barraclough told Newsroom last week.

Barraclough said the fact that the card would be distributed to every New Zealander and didn’t require owning any technology could help address barriers to app uptake, like people not owning a smartphone. However, it should still be optional to carry and use the card, he said.

Ardern appeared to allude to the CovidCard in previous comments, telling Newsroom last week that “We’re also, of course, continuing to look at alternatives that may have greater uptake or more success” than the app.

Monday’s confirmation that the Government was keen on the proposal was contingent on the results of the review and further testing, Ardern suggested.

“There are three things that really need to be tested: First, the technical capability; privacy issues; and thirdly the likelihood of New Zealanders to accept such a tool. But, for now, given the growing pandemic, given the fact that not everyone has access to an app, we believe that there is still room for us to fully explore this option and we are.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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