Australia urges use of coronavirus-tracking phone app, but says it’s not mandatory

A staged photo of a person using the Australian government coronavirus tracking app on a phone in Brisbane, Australia, 18 April 2020. The Australian government's coronavirus tracing app which would track and use data from people's phones to inform health authorities of close contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases. EPA/DARREN ENGLAND AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Australia’s coronavirus-related death toll rose by three to a total of 68 on Saturday, health data showed, with the government stepping up its calls for people to sign up for a controversial movement-tracking mobile phone app.

Australia and neighbouring New Zealand have shown early success in potentially stopping COVID-19 after closing their early and imposing strict curbs on public movement.

The daily growth rate of new infections has steadied in the low percentage single digits in both countries, a fraction of what was seen a month ago. Australia recorded 36 new cases on Saturday and a total of 6,533 cases, according to the health ministry data.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday that downloading a movement-tracking app, which would enable the government to detect potential new outbreaks and which has been criticized as invasion of privacy, would not be mandatory.

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“We will be seeking the cooperation and support of Australians to download the app to help our health workers, to protect our community and help get our economy going again,” Morrison said on his Twitter account.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said there would there will be no surveillance involved with the app, which is to be ready within weeks.

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“The app is simply a health app,” Robert said in a televised briefing.

The government said the app would help guild policymakers in winding back social distancing measures.

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Australia’s bars and other “non-essential” businesses have closed, and public gatherings of more than two people are banned under the threat of fines and even prison. The measures are expected to double the unemployment rate by mid-year.

New Zealand, which adopted one the world’s harshest lockdowns even before reporting a first death, saw 8 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing all infections to 1,094. So far 11 people have died, health ministry data showed.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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