A security guard stands outside a COVID-19 clinic in Lower Hutt, near Wellington, New Zealand, on April 20, 2020. (AFP / Marty Melville)

Misleading claim circulates about coronavirus contact tracing app in New Zealand

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved

Multiple Facebook and Twitter posts shared thousands of times in May 2020 claim anyone in New Zealand who refuses to use a coronavirus contact tracing app has been banned from entering shops during the COVID-19 pandemic. The claim is misleading; as of May 27, the app named in the posts is not a contact tracing app and is not being used by New Zealand's government as part of its coronavirus strategy; to date, the government's only coronavirus contact tracing app is voluntary for businesses and the public; shops in New Zealand are also not required to record consumer information for contact tracing purposes.  

The claim was published here on Facebook on May 15. It has been shared more than 1,400 times. 

The post’s lengthy caption reads in part: “You cannot go into a STORE, Post Shop, mall, unless you scan in the QR code posted outside with the contact tracing app, your phone camera, or sign a register (where your name. address and phone details are visible to everybody), and in some cases (people are telling me), have your photo taken. 

“The retailers were told that they are NOT ALLOWED TO SELL TO YOU if you don't comply.

“By the way, this is NOT the $65Million Contact Tracing app that the government has made, this is an existing web-based contact app from EvaCheckin.

“New Zealand has ‘flattened the curve’ and lost its Democracy.” 

The post also includes an image that purportedly shows instructions to scan a QR code with a phone camera or via a web link. 

A screenshot taken on May 26, 2020, of the misleading post by Facebook user Michael Simms

The claim was shared hundreds of times on Facebook here, here, here and here, and on Twitter here. It also circulated in other languages, such as in Hebrew here and here

The claim is misleading.

EVA Check-in, which is referred to as a “web-based contact app from EvaCheckin” in the social media posts, is an online commercial system developed by New Zealand technology consultancy Theta

As of May 27, 2020, the programme is not a contact-tracing app and instead offers a “secure, contactless way” to help businesses with guest registration via the scanning of QR codes, according to Theta. EVA Check-in requires no installation, no hardware, no app download, and does not use Bluetooth or record geolocation data, the company said.

The system is not mandatory or government-related, and is available to businesses on a monthly subscription.

“EVA Check-in is not connected with the NZ COVID Tracer app,” a Theta spokesperson told AFP in an email dated May 26. “We have worked with the Ministry of Health so that we can make sure we meet the privacy requirements for health systems, and so that we can assist the government’s efforts by sharing relevant data and integrating with the Tracer app when/if such features become available from them.”

Shopping guidelines

As of May 27, the claim that retailers must turn away consumers who do not comply with contact-tracing measures is also misleading. 

“Retail businesses do not need to record details of their customers. This includes shopping malls, supermarkets, marketplaces, takeaway food and retail stores,” the government explains in a statement on contact tracing procedures here

Non-retail businesses and services, however, are required to record people’s movements for contact tracing purposes.  

The Theta spokesperson said: “EVA Check-in does not ban anyone. It is the responsibility of the business to keep a guest register. If someone does not check in with EVA it is up to that business to offer a manual alternative if they wish.” 

NZ COVID Tracer 

The only official COVID-19 contact-tracing app in New Zealand is the government’s NZ COVID Tracer.

The app was released on May 20 to “support contact tracing in New Zealand” following the easing of COVID-19 lockdown measures

According to the Ministry of Health press release; “Kiwis who download the app will create a digital diary of the places they visit by scanning QR codes displayed at the entrances to business premises, other organisations and public buildings.”

As of May 27, the app, however, is voluntary for businesses and the public. 

“Technical solutions like the NZ COVID Tracer app are just one part of contact tracing and are designed to support rather than replace existing contact tracing processes,” the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment states here on a FAQ page for business owners. “If you have existing manual or digital contact tracing processes in place that are effective, you can continue to use these.”