New Zealand Ministry of Health completes ‘world-leading’ trial for contact-tracing Bluetooth card

The New Zealand Ministry of Health has completed a trial for Bluetooth card contact tracing technology, which is intended to help minimise COVID-19 outbreaks.

Purported to be world-leading, the community-led tech trial was focused on a wearable Bluetooth card designed by Te Arawa COVID hub, the Ministry of Health, the universities of Otago and Waikato, and Australian tech company Contact Harald.

The tracing system, which was trialled by the Ngongotahā community, near Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island, claims to notify only closely recorded contacts. Between 500 and 1,500 members of the community participated, according to the New Zealand Government’s website. The Bluetooth aspect enables cards to exchange “digital handshakes” but keeps records anonymised.

The Bluetooth card, which is also sometimes referred to as the ‘CovidCard’, is said to record and store interactions of two minutes plus, within a 1.5-metre radius – meaning it should cause minimal disruption when contacting members of the public. Participants were asked to wear the cards as they went about their daily lives and attended events.

As well as testing the technology itself, the trial was also intended to collect information on people’s responsiveness to accepting and using the wearable card, and how and when they might use them. It is designed to be particularly useful for tracking or managing outbreaks in communities and areas with lower smartphone usage.

Shayne Hunter, the Ministry’s Deputy Director-General of Data and Digital, said of the news: “The community trial of the Bluetooth cards has been successful, with the insights we’ve gained into how people use the cards as well as a better understanding of how the card technology can support contact tracing.”

“Bluetooth cards have the potential to help contact tracing go faster as one of a number of technology solutions alongside the Government’s contact tracing app, although it is clear that interoperability is key to ensuring effectiveness. A key benefit of the cards, along with other wearable technologies, is that they could allow people who don’t have smartphones to protect themselves and their communities.”

While Co-Founder and Head of Product at Contact Harald Matt Denton added: “As we move towards a COVID-normal, we need to implement solutions that ensure we can keep everyone safe – particularly through contact tracing tools.”

The news comes as New Zealand continues to be widely praised for its leadership and overall handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More information on the trial can be found on the New Zealand Government’s website.