US tech giant to revamp Victoria's contact tracing system
A US tech giant is set to lift Victoria's COVID-19 contact tracing into the digital age amid criticism from the Commonwealth government the state's system is not up to speed in detecting and responding to outbreaks.
Silicon Valley group Salesforce will install a data management system within the state's health department which will send automated text messages to health authorities, infected people and potentially their close contacts under the streamlined plan, boosting the speed of the process.
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The Victorian government is understood to have rejected the offer by the tech giant earlier during the pandemic. The technology already supports contact tracing in Western Australia, South Australia and New Zealand.
Premier Daniel Andrews today said Salesforce would consolidate various platforms into one digital hub for contact tracing.
"The Salesforce product - which is about trying to consolidate and align many different platforms into one platform - that is happening now and that just means that there is less pen and paper, there is less manual data entry," he said.
"It also facilitates the notion of devolving some of our response."
A second product from the Australian Defence Force, which utilises artificial intelligence, will also help to configure connections and patterns during contact tracing.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt today said Victoria's second coronavirus wave "could largely have been avoided" if the state's contact tracing system had been more efficient.
"If you have a highly developed contact tracing system, then you can bring us in a progressive stage way out of these curfews and lockdowns," he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday hit out at Victoria's contact tracing system, questioning whether the state would have instilled such a conservative roadmap out of lockdown if their system were as efficient as the "gold standard" in New South Wales.
"NSW has a stronger capability when it comes to tracing," Mr Morrison said.
"I think one of the questions that has been raised in relation to the Victorian plan is what assumption is being made about the efficacy of contact tracing with the measures they've set out.
"To what extent would those restrictions be otherwise lessened if a higher capacity and functionality of contact tracing were present?
"It's just not about how many people you've got on the phone. Information systems are critical to this.
"The way work is structured and organised is critical to this. And it's an integrated tracing capability."
Mr Morrison said if NSW were following the COVID-19 roadmap they would still be in lockdown, saying he hoped Victoria's roadmap was a "worst-case scenario".
Mr Andrews has previously defended the state's contact tracing system, while stressing comparisons against NSW were "unfair".
"They've not had the community transmission we've had. So we are different," he said.
The premier confirmed today senior health officials would visit Sydney this week to "double and triple check" their contact tracing systems were aligned and whether any improvements could be made in Victoria.
It comes as at least five localised suburban contact tracing units will be set up across metropolitan Melbourne in a bid to speed up the state's contact tracing response and help contain localised outbreaks.
Mr Andrews said the localised teams would enable outbreaks to be quickly pounced upon.
"In coming weeks, after consultation with health services, consultation with local government, we will establish those important suburban equivalents of those regional public health teams at all points on the compass," he said.
"That will be about trying to provide the very best and localised response. We think that will serve us very well."