CovidCard phone-free contact tracing proposed in New Zealand

Contact tracing is one of the key elements that could help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, both during lockdown but especially after it. Most contact tracing, however, is being done manually, relying on people's memories, travel records, and other pieces of data that slow down the process significantly. Governments are now looking towards technological alternatives and one of the newest and most promising solutions proposed in New Zealand is nothing more than a Bluetooth-enabled credit card-sized tracker.

CovidCard, as it is being called, works almost like the popular Tile Bluetooth tracker. But instead of simply broadcasting its presence and location, CovidCard communicates with other cards in close proximity, basically creating a log of people (or cards) you've been in contact with. When a person tests positive for COVID-19, health workers can download the log from the card and alert the appropriate people.

To some extent, it works in the same way as app-centric solutions like those just announced by Google and Apple as well as Singapore's TraceTogether. The latter, however, was discovered to have many problems ranging from not many people downloading them in the first place to iOS requiring it to run in the foreground to even work. Google's and Apple's solution could be baked into Android and iOS to get around those issues but it still comes with questions on privacy among others.

CovidCard may address most if not all of those. The cards are nondescript and can be left home if people want to "opt out" of contact tracing. They don't hold location data, only IDs of other CovidCards it comes in contact with and only New Zealand's COVID-19 response team will have the contact details of people associated with the cards. The card's battery will supposedly last for a year and will be destroyed as soon as the pandemic is over.

It's not a foolproof solution, though, and New Zealand's government is still weighing its possible options, including an app-based solution based on TraceTogether. It may have to weigh in quickly because models show that if contact tracing isn't properly implemented after a lockdown is lifted, the cases will skyrocket, making the quarantine pointless in the first place.