Covid check-ins fall 25% at NSW venues as Sydney records mystery new local case

Josh Taylor
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

The number of Covid-19 check-ins at venues across New South Wales has declined by more than 25% in the space of three months, new data reveals.

The drop in recorded check-ins comes at a worrying time as NSW recorded a new case of community transmission with the source still yet to be identified.

Since the start of the year, hospitality and hairdressing businesses have been required to use the Service NSW app to register people’s details at the time they visit, using a QR code to check in on their phone.

Despite venue check-ins becoming part and parcel of Covid-normal life in Australia, complacency appears to have crept in. Data from Service NSW provided to Guardian Australia shows a decline of more than 16m in the number of check-ins between January and April, despite restrictions being in place in January due to Sydney’s northern beaches outbreak.

Related: Covid NSW hotspots: list of Sydney and regional coronavirus case locations

The 66m check-ins in January dropped to 54.4m in February, then down to 50.8m in March and 48.3m in April.

The drop came despite analysis of mobile location data from Roy Morgan suggesting that Sydney, along with other capital cities, reached pandemic highs for movement during the Easter school holidays in April, with Sydney recording 59% of the seven-day traffic it saw in the city pre-pandemic.

A Service NSW spokesperson said people should remain vigilant and ensure they checked in. Businesses were warned they could be inspected and fined or shut down if found to not be in compliance.

“Authorised officers are making inspections of businesses to check compliance and are able to issue on-the-spot fines,” the spokesperson said. “For repeated non-compliance, businesses may be shut down for periods of up to a month.”

After Guardian Australia obtained the figures, NSW reported a new case of community transmission of Covid-19 in a man in his 50s in Sydney’s east. The state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said the man had been vigilant with checking in, but premier Gladys Berejiklian noted complacency had set in.

She said NSW police had attended venues to ensure they were checking people in, and recorded a 30% increase in venues complying with the rules, despite the overall drop in check-ins.

“There has been a 30% increase in compliance at venues not only to make sure venues are displaying the QR code at front of house,” she said. “So we’re making sure that all businesses, all establishments, know how important it is to remind people because it’s easy to forget..but it’s so important for us to maintain those basic rules …. Get tested, hand sanitisation, social distancing and make sure you use QR codes when you go to a venue.”

An epidemiologist, Prof Mary-Louise McLaws from the University of NSW, told Guardian Australia the drop showed the general population did not feel the threat of Covid-19 but people would remember to scan the code when the threat became apparent.

“If you ask them to use the QR code they will, and the venue operators will remind you and point to the code,” she said “Yes, it’s dropped, but that’s a reflection of how safe the Australian people feel, and some have just learned a new behaviour and are continuing it, and it’s embedded and it’s easy for them.

“The others will do the right thing when a threat reappears.”

Related: Scott Morrison claims it is ‘highly unlikely’ Australians returning from India will be jailed under biosecurity laws

The problem with that, McLaws said, was the threat of a breach from hotel quarantine was always with us, and with the staff in the system being of a younger demographic, they socialised more and had more contacts.

“Without using [the codes], even in this safe time, it basically means that contact tracers have got a more difficult job to keep us safe,” she said. “So I would recommend using QR codes until our authorities have decided that we’ve reached herd immunity, which will be a long time off.”

The NSW services minister, Victor Dominello, told Nine newspapers in April that the check-in system would remain in place until health experts deemed it no longer necessary.

A total of 4.8 million people have checked in using the Service NSW app at least once, with 236m total check-ins. There are 216,111 businesses in NSW registered to use it.

The data is held by the NSW government for 28 days for the purpose of contact tracing in the event that someone who visited the venue later tests positive for Covid-19. If 28 days pass without it being needed, the data is deleted.

Victoria followed NSW, with businesses required to be using the state’s check-in app or one that uses the government interface by the end of April, and Queensland made its check-in app mandatory from 1 May.