National app maps COVID alerts across Australia

1 July 2021

Researchers have developed a new contact tracing web app for COVID‐19 that pulls together current contact tracing alert locations from across the country, and presents the information in an interactive mobile-friendly map.  

The experts say the project - led by The Australian National University (ANU) and The University of Queensland - aims to make pandemic data and information more easily accessible to the public. 

The web app is part of the COVID‐19 Real‐time Information System for Preparedness and Epidemic Response (CRISPER) project, funded by the APPRISE NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence. 

"CRISPER aims to provide a source of accurate, reliable and spatially explicit real‐time information for COVID‐19," said project lead Professor Colleen Lau, an ANU Honorary Professor currently based at School of Public Health at The University of Queensland.   

"The web app pulls together information on current contact tracing locations from all states and territories, and it makes them available all in one place.  

"Australians travel frequently between states and territories, so a national app is very useful. 

"The app is accessible on desktops or smartphones, and users can also set up automatic alerts for locations that are important to them, such as new cases or contact tracing alerts in suburbs or postcodes where they live or work." 

ANU epidemiologist Dr Meru Sheel said: "The app provides a one-stop shop to review COVID-19 exposure sites and the time of exposure as identified by health departments. 

"Having a one-stop shop can help speed up the process of contact tracing for epidemiologists and build outbreak mud maps to help understand transmission patterns."  

The CRISPER project has also produced a suite of other publicly accessible tools for COVID‐19, including a national summaries dashboard, an interactive mapping tool for NSW, and an automatic alert system

The researchers currently use publicly available post-code level data to create a national database of cases, deaths, testing, and contact tracing alert locations. 

"Having a national integrated system has many advantages because people can find everything in one spot, rather than having to search through multiple health department websites," Professor Lau said. 

"Each state and territory's website is structured differently and it can be difficult to find information quickly, so the CRISPER tools help by automatically updating information from health departments across the nation and making them more accessible.  

"The tools enable people to interact with the data and ask specific questions, such as the number of locally acquired cases in specific areas during a specific time period. 

"Our biggest challenge has been access to live official national data in a ready-to-use format. We could make our tools even more useful if we had better access to data."   

ANU Professor Graham Williams and his team at the ANU Software Innovation Institute, developed the technology to collect, store, and share the data.  

"The technology automatically extracts public COVID-19 related data from across all states and territories into our data engine," ANU Professor Williams, Chief Scientist, Software Innovation Institute, said.
 
"The engine brings the data together into a form that can be utilised through smartphone or desktop applications.
 
"It's more engaging to interact with the data within a map where you can identify events such as COVID-19 cases or contact tracing locations in specific areas of interest to the user." 

The interactive mapping tools have been built by Michael Hewett and Paul Konings from the ANU National Centre for Geographic Resources and Analysis in Primary Health Care (GRAPHC).

The project is designed to be accessible and helpful to the public and for epidemiologists and public health professionals, including GPs.  

In addition to the regularly updated maps, location-based alerts provide daily situation updates, on request, to registered users.