New Zealanders scanned NZ Covid Tracer app QR codes more than 600,000 times for three days in a row this week, the first time this has happened since early December.

Data released today by the Ministry of Health shows registered scans for Jan. 18, 19 and 20 at 642,830, 652,651, and 651,644, respectively. 

The last time the ministry recorded more than 600,000 scans three days in a row was Dec. 2 to Dec. 4. 

Despite the slight rise in scans, New Zealanders’ use of the app is erratic, with just 394,027 scans reported for Jan. 10. The current numbers are a far cry from early September when scans exceeded 2 million daily.

“We are at 25 percent of the peak usage that we saw in September last year, and I still think that we need to see ten-times more activity than we have now to have reasonable confidence that this tool will be effective in the event of another outbreak,” Andrew Chen, University of Auckland research fellow with Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures told BusinessDesk.

There are many reasons Kiwis are choosing not to scan in, but complacency due to NZ's lack of covid in the community is high on the list.

“It’s incredibly important that people keep a record of where they’ve been,” Shayne Hunter, deputy director-general, data and digital at the Ministry of Health told BusinessDesk. 

“It can help support contact tracers in tracing potential close and casual contacts of people who have tested positive for covid-19.”

The ministry today noted it is a year to the day since NZ's first covid-19 PCR test — the test to see if a person is currently infected — was taken. 

New habits

Scanning is of particular importance given the presence of more infectious strains of the coronavirus present in NZ quarantine facilities. 

"I'm glad to see that QR code scan rates have returned to a level that we saw in early December,” Chen said.

“It's also worth noting that there are more active devices contributing to those scans, so it's not just that people are scanning more codes each, it is also that there are more people scanning,” he added. He said people returning to work after holidays is likely contributing to the rising numbers, along with fears of the new strains of the virus.

Today, the ministry reported nine new cases of covid-19 in managed isolation since its previous report on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the department said there have been a total of 29 cases in managed isolation of the more contagious UK coronavirus variant, and seven of the South African variant. 

“We expect we will continue to see both the UK variant and South Africa variant in positive cases in our managed isolation facilities here in NZ as these forms of the virus become increasingly common around the world,” it said in a statement. 

As of Jan. 20, the number of devices in the country with the app’s Bluetooth tracing function active was 598,638, up from 538,827 a week earlier. It became available on Dec. 10. 

Chen suggested the slow take-up since then appears organic and through word-of-mouth rather than indicating a successful advertising campaign. 

He said the Apple iPhone 6, released in 2014, is one of the most-used devices in the country that can run the app but is too old to support the Bluetooth tracing feature. 

“I would still like to see at least two million devices participating in Bluetooth Tracing to have confidence that the data it produces will help suppress a new outbreak. We're about 30 percent of the way there, which is pretty good considering the context that we are living in here in New Zealand, and I just hope that the uptake rates will go up further before the virus makes it through MIQ."