The COVID Bluetooth blues
For Helen O’Connor and her friends, tracking where they’ve been and who they’ve seen while the country is at Alert Level One is not easy without a smartphone.
“I’m in the older age group and so are a lot of my friends, and we’re all in the same situation with older phones that are incapable of accepting the Covid Tracer app,” says Helen.
Most shops provide a clipboard where people can write down their details on entering the premises.
“I do that, and keep a diary as well of where I’ve been,” says Helen. “But there’s a large percentage of older folk and maybe even kids with cheaper phones who just aren’t able to get the app.
“I wish the government had introduced the pendant idea that was trialled in Rotorua, for people in our situation, so that we could feel that we were being more responsible in what we did.”
Helen’s career background is 30 years as a radiographer.
“And then I worked with Arthritis NZ and for Age Concern. I’m not a fool. A lot of my friends have also worked in medical fields and we’re all in the same boat.
“The Ministry of Health surely must be aware that there is a large group of people who are actually being virtually discriminated against just because they can’t get it.”
The NZ Covid Tracer app helps people protect themselves, their family and community by enabling faster contact tracing. The app has been updated to include Bluetooth tracing technology which allows the user to receive an alert if they have been near another app user who tests positive for Covid-19.
Phones with older operating systems do not provide Bluetooth tracing because they do not have the Apple/Google Exposure Notification Framework.
Helen took a look at the Health and Disability Act to see if it could address her plight.
“I wondered whether I could make myself heard using that, but that relates to quality of care, not to lack or provision of a service,” says Helen. “I haven't yet looked at what's available under the Human Rights Act and whether this is actually discriminatory that the Government haven't made another provision for a large group of people who are probably fairly vulnerable.
“Even friends of mine who I would have said were more up with the play in terms of digital stuff, their phones won’t accept the app. I've actually been surprised by the range of people I've come across. I’ve said to them: ‘can you download this stuff? Are you able to scan your codes?’ No.”
On the NZ Covid website: www.covid19.govt.nz the Ministry of Health provides the NZ Covid Tracer booklet that can be printed out or ordered by post.
“Our vicar John Hebenton at St Georges got the booklets in,” says Helen. “He realised so many in the congregation didn’t have smart phones or couldn’t download the app.”
Each booklet has 36 pages which lasts a month and can be ordered in a pack of ten.
“I’ve been doing this steadily since November,” says Helen.
The Bay of Plenty DHB also has the NZ Covid Tracer booklet available in the Covid section of the front reception area of the Tauranga Hospital for anyone to take and use. The free booklets have been “hot sellers” says BOPDHB communications manager Diana Marriott. The booklet is also available free from a range of health providers or can be downloaded from the NZ Covid website. If using the booklet, people are still encouraged to sign the contact tracing register when they visit places like shops.