Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the state was too “swamped” by the first wave of the pandemic to consider contact-tracing technology it is now embracing to help contain further outbreaks.
Mr Andrews confirmed reports in The Age that Silicon Valley tech giant Salesforce was providing a new data management system to bring Victoria’s contact-tracing methods into the digital age.
The Premier also confirmed that Victoria rejected an approach by Salesforce early in the pandemic.
“Sometimes, when you are swamped, it is not a great time to move to a new IT platform,” Mr Andrews said.
The technology has been used for several months in Western Australia, South Australia and New Zealand and also supports contract tracing in 35 US jurisdictions.
Mr Andrews said Victoria’s entire contact-tracing system, currently being staffed by more than 2600 people, was shifting to the new cloud-based platform.
This will mean that notification of new positive COVID-19 tests, details of cases and information about people they might have infected will be contained within a single system.
It will also enable automated messages to be sent to people who test positive and those considered close contacts, saving critical time in the process.
Salesforce COVID-19 contract-tracing management software is already being used in Victoria by infrastructure company Acciona at one of the government’s signature, level-crossing removal construction sites to support the daily virus screening of all workers.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton confirmed the company first approached Victoria in March, when the focus of all states was on slowing the spread of the virus and building COVID-19 capacity in hospitals and intensive care units.
He defended the five-month delay in supporting Victoria’s testers and contact tracers – the state’s frontline defence against the virus – with a modern IT system.
“The system we had, we didn’t know what would be required,’’ Professor Sutton told Radio 3AW’s Neil Mitchell. “We didn’t know that we would get 700 cases a day and we didn’t know what the particular weaknesses of our existing database would be.’’
Modelling produced by the Doherty Institute indicated that without significant COVID-19 restrictions, Victoria would have faced 58,000 cases at the peak of the second wave.
Professor Sutton said Victoria’s public health incident management team, the unit that manages the small army of contact tracers, was still receiving information about new COVID-19 infections from some health providers by fax.
Mr Andrews said the new IT system was being installed in parallel with the existing one so that no critical information fell through the cracks.
Chip Le Grand is The Age’s chief reporter. He writes about crime, sport and national affairs, with a particular focus on Melbourne.