“Obviously in the context of very strong restrictions people aren’t having contact with many people, but we think that puts us in an extremely good position to use the app going forward,” she said.
The app was developed as part of the government’s COVIDSafe strategy, which, at a cost of about $70 million, has included advertising about social distancing and good hygiene practices.
Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen said Labor was supportive of any tool to ease the burden of the pandemic. But given Australia had recorded 27,520 cases of COVID-19 and uncovered hundreds of thousands of close contacts, the app was clearly ineffective.
“This app has been a huge bungle,” he said.
Senate estimates also heard the level of mental distress has increased across Australia but soared in Victoria as the pandemic has worn on. In Victoria alone, Kids Helpline services rose by 61 per cent, Beyond Blue help went up by 67 per cent and Lifeline calls rose by 40 per cent.
Use of Medicare mental health services in Victoria in the four weeks to October 11 was also 31 per cent higher than the equivalent four-week period a year earlier, the Health Department’s first assistant secretary Mark Roddam said.
“Clearly Victorians are reaching out for support in a much larger proportion than the rest of the country,” Mr Roddam said, adding demand for mental health services was expected to reduce as the pandemic in Victoria comes under control.
In the hearings, Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy revealed Australia may end up with more than one coronavirus vaccine.
“If one particular vaccine that we have adequate supply of turns out to be the most effective, we will probably stick with one, but it’s quite possible that we might end up with more than one,” he said.
It remains unknown how effective any coronavirus vaccines will be or whether there will be an effective vaccine at all, but Professor Murphy said confidence was growing as vaccine trials progressed.
“We have to work on best possible assumptions, and our best possible assumption now is that there’s quite a lot of confidence that we will get a vaccine that will be partially or fully effective,” he said.
Professor Murphy said it was a reasonable estimate that it would take a full calendar year to vaccinate the community.
Australia had signed two advance purchase agreements for vaccines and was in discussions with several other organisations about other vaccine programs.
The first purchase agreement was for the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford vaccine, which Professor Murphy said was one of the most advanced vaccines so far.
“Probably that’s the vaccine that’s most advanced in terms of clinical trials and has the best data so far that it produces a good immune response,” he said. “As we get more and more data, we will know more and more about which vaccines to focus on and to prioritise.”
Rachel Clun is a federal political reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, covering health.