The real problem with Australia’s quarantine system
I WENT through the quarantine process in Sydney as an arrival from overseas and then again in Hobart as an arrival from interstate.
As such I am among a small number of Australians who have experienced both quarantine processes as well as the infamous G2G app.
Last week the G2G app alerted me to something (the alert message appearing on the iPhone lockscreen and that little red "1" that gets attached to the G2G app indicating there is one alert to be checked), but the app would not tell me what the alert is about. I checked everything in the app and also on the G2G website but I still can't tell. Everything looks the same as it looked before the alert.
The incident reminded me of the end of my self-isolation period in Hobart. Not only did the G2G app get the quarantine period wrong (in my case the quarantine timer ended the day after the 14-day period was over) but the app also did not show anything like "Yay, your quarantine period is over".
Instead they merely removed the previously shown red banner counting the days. If you were looking for any evidence of the conclusion of the quarantine period you would be stuck in quarantine forever.
Who designed this? It violates all kinds of guidelines for good software design. I was also surprised the G2G app cannot be used to book that voluntary follow-up COVID-19 test.
Seriously, it's not rocket science to link an app to a calendar, especially if you have all the personal details readily available right in the app.
To top things off I received an incorrect $3000 quarantine fee invoice from the NSW government.
I booked my flights long before the deadline after which one has to pay but they never bothered asking. I also noticed NSW authorities still misspell my name even though I asked them several times to fix it while I was in their quarantine system.
How can we trust authorities to track cases reliably if they make mistakes when transcribing names from passports? In my case it's just four letters.
Why are they transcribing manually anyway? And don't even remind me of the breadcrumbs and the foreign language labelled red air balloon I found floating in a cupboard in my quarantine hotel room.
If we accept COVID-19 won't disappear any time soon, we need to talk about investing into the hard and soft infrastructure that is required to ensure that Tasmania can maintain its status as COVID-19-free oasis.
And I am not just talking about fixing the problems with the G2G app.
Things work but to me the quarantine processes felt like sticky-tape solutions that only work because of the efforts of many dedicated staff.
The arrival procedure at Sydney International felt stitched together and regular hotels are far from ideal for quarantine purposes.
Isolating at home also has its limitations and well-published shortcomings with people going missing and Tasmania Police and SES spending valuable time doing drive-bys to check whether people are where they are meant to be.
I was checked twice in two weeks and didn't feel it was an error-safe process (how do you know it was me talking to you?)
I see many opportunities for well designed IT to support and possibly enhance many of these quarantine-related processes, starting from transparent permit application processes where supporting information can be reviewed and modified as required, and smart support for officers doing deep checking of applications and checking that people stick to self-isolation requirements.
Smart technology could ensure essential workers exempt from quarantine stick to the work area exempted for (no mingling at functions at the other end of town when your essential work is checking building fixtures). Well designed IT could support families in quarantine by offering games and other enjoyable activities that help kill time. In Sydney I received a printed sheet a day providing ideas for activities. I thought this was a great idea but at the same time felt we could do so much more.
If we broaden our thinking we'd be looking at fit-for-purpose accommodation that does not disadvantage people on lower incomes (but may offer extras for those willing to pay) and that may scale for overseas student cohorts flying directly into Tasmania bypassing a likely less safe mainland, as well as advanced support for those allowed to isolate at home.
A few years ago the University of Tasmania established a school bringing together architecture, design, computing and geography. This mix of disciplines is suited to develop well designed multi-level, multi-area quarantine support. But let's be clear about one thing - designing support for multi-departmental quarantine processes is not about programming apps, it's advanced socio-technical design. It involves more design and social science research than it involves tech development.
Christopher Lueg teaches human centred design and interaction design and is co-chairing the Usability and Human Centered Design track at the 2020 Australasian Conference on Information Systems (New Zealand). He is a Professor in Medical Informatics in Switzerland. Until 2018 he was a professor in computing at the University of Tasmania where he established Human Computer Interaction as a teaching and research area.
Originally published as The real problem with Australia's quarantine system