Broad confidence in contact tracing remains stable, reveals a new representative survey by Stickybeak for The Spinoff. But the numbers on app usage are a worry.
The worldwide spread of the super-contagious delta strain of Covid-19 has put fresh pressure on contact tracing systems. New South Wales, for example, prided itself on its processes, but according to public health experts they came up short in the face of the new variant.
So far, New Zealand has avoided community transmission of delta, despite an Australian visitor spending a weekend in Wellington while infected. But the spectre of the variant looms, and figured in the calculations that saw the announcement on Friday that the trans-Tasman bubble would be suspended across the board for at least eight weeks. It was clear that New South Wales had faced “a real challenge with the delta variant … despite having what many around the globe would have felt was one of the best contact tracing and testing systems in the world”, Ashley Bloomfield, the director general of health, said at the Friday afternoon press conference. “We are watching very closely to see what this means for how we will respond in New Zealand to one of these cases.”
In our latest survey with Stickybeak, we asked people how confident they were in our contact tracing systems. The top line: 53% responded positively, 23% negatively, and 25% were in the middle. There was very little change from the last time we asked the question, just over a year ago. In June 2020, the corresponding figures were 55%, 24% and 21%. But then, the contact tracing systems were under considerable scrutiny, with Ayesha Verrall, who has since become associate minister of health, having produced a report identifying a number of shortcomings in the systems, as health officials raced to try to achieve a “gold standard” contact tracing system.
App usage back in doldrums
The contact tracing system is a lot more than the app on your phone, but the Covid Tracer is a critical part of it, especially in the face of the delta threat. You might think the string of outbreaks in Australia, where two-thirds of the population has this week been back in lockdown, would prompt New Zealanders to be pointing their devices everywhere. You'd be wrong. The curve continues to worryingly flatten after a small spike as Wellington went into alert level two following its delta weekend.
The challenges around use of the Covid app are underscored by findings in recent research by TRA for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Of a range of factors surveyed, it found "using the NZ Covid Tracer app and turning Bluetooth on are the lowest scoring for compliance and willingness".
In response to questions from The Spinoff last month on app usage, Bloomfield said: "We have done some research to help understand what are the things that would support people to use the app more, so we'll be providing some more advice ... and we're constantly upgrading it, including the functionality for people."
Jacinda Ardern added: "We've continually been reinforcing the point this is not just an app we ask people to use when they see cases in New Zealand. It only works if in the event we have a case, we are able to track back on people's movements up until that time. So it's important that everyone is constantly vigilant."
She continued: "We have conversations around whether or not we need to step up requirements such as mandating use. We didn't land on mandating use in the past because enforcement is such an issue – you're therefore asking anyone who runs a small business not to let anyone on to their [premises] if they refuse to use the app. It does throw up some issues."
This latest Stickybeak survey for The Spinoff also polled on sentiment towards the government response to Covid and the National Party's performance; how people rate the performance of the New Zealand vaccine rollout; and views on the pace of "opening up".
About the study
Respondents were self-selecting participants, recruited via Facebook and Instagram. A total of n=629 sample was achieved of adults in New Zealand, with 208 of those in Auckland. Results in this report are weighted by age, gender and region to statistics from the 2018 Census. For a random sample of this size and after accounting for weighting, the maximum sampling error (using 95% confidence) is approximately ±3.9%. The study went into the field on Thursday July 15 and was completed on Monday July 19. Numbers are rounded, so will not always add to 100%.
Stickybeak is a New Zealand startup launched globally last June that uses chatbots to make quantitative market research more conversational and therefore less boring and even fun for respondents. Unlike conventional research, which uses panels of professional paid responders, Stickybeak recruits unique respondents fresh for each survey via social media.