New Zealand's response to tackling Covid-19 reached another key milestone today with the launch of a Covid contact tracing card in Ngongotahā, Rotorua.
The on-the-ground phase of a community-based trial was launched by Minister for Government Digital Services Kris Faafoi and Te Arawa Covid Response hub kaumatua Sir Toby Curtis and Monty Morrison.
Between 500 and 1500 people are being sought to participate in the trial, and wear the card for a week, providing feedback on the experience.
Participants will need to be over 19 years old and live and or work in Ngongotahā.
Co-designed by Te Arawa Covid Hub, the Ministry of Health and the Universities of Otago and Waikato, the trial aims to understand how a contact tracing card works in the real world, whether it is compatible with New Zealand's contact tracing systems, and if people will accept and use them.
"On behalf of Government, I acknowledge the commitment of the Ngongotahā community and local leaders to deliver this trial," Faafoi said.
"Their support and leadership will provide important help for the Government to decide if a card could be rolled out as an additional contact tracing option to benefit all of Aotearoa/New Zealand."
Te Arawa Covid Response hub kaumatua Monty Morrison (left), Labour MP Tamati Coffey and Minister for Government Digital Services Kris Faafoi. Photo / Andrew Warner
The trial will also provide valuable insights into other viable options and technologies and ensure comprehensive coverage across Aotearoa.
Te Arawa believes a contact tracing card could be a critical addition to the pandemic toolbox to help protect vulnerable whānau from Covid-19.
Te Arawa Covid-19 Response Hub spokesman Monty Morrison said the trial would help determine whether a contact tracing card was a more equitable, and therefore effective, contact-tracing solution for vulnerable communities.
"Tragically, we already know from experience that Māori are estimated to be 50 per cent more likely to die from Covid-19 than non-Māori.
"Effective and efficient contact-tracing could literally mean the difference between life and death for some of our whānau, and we need to ensure we have the ability to identify potential contacts and reach and isolate people quickly.
"Many koeke do not own smartphones, and large numbers of our whānau have an older phone that does not support the government's contact tracing app," Morrison said.
The card can be worn on a lanyard or clipped to the wearer's belt. It exchanges signals with anyone nearby who is also wearing a card, making a "digital handshake".
The contact tracing card cannot track the wearer's location or identity and the information is fully contained and protected on each card. Its primary function is to build a memory of contacts so the wearer can be quickly alerted if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
New Zealand deputy director general of health, Shayne Hunter, said the ministry was pleased Te Arawa had agreed to be involved in the trial.
"Covid19 is evolving and not going away – we must explore all options to protect our communities here in Aotearoa, and to prevent the need for further lockdowns.
"Te Arawa knows the Ngongotahā community better than anyone and has all the skills and experience needed to support a successful trial from beginning to end.
"The co-design process has included a series of hui with Iwi and community leaders, and these local insights will be crucial to the success of the trial."
The trial programme has been under way for months, and the on-the-ground phase is the final part.
The cards will be live from Monday, November 9 to Sunday, November 15.
People can sign up online or register in person from tomorrow to Sunday, November 8 at various locations in Ngongotahā.