By Grant Jacobs 27/08/2021

OPINION. It’s important locate as many people who have been at locations of interest as possible in New Zealand’s Delta variant outbreak. Because few people have been scanning QR codes or keeping other personal records we’re relying on people to check the Ministry of Health’s list of locations of interest. A few initiatives might help this.

People who’ve been at locations of interest are considered contacts. At the August 26th 1pm briefing we were told ~65% of contacts have been followed up, and 75% of these tested.

In order to move to lower Alert levels, or end the outbreak, we need to have more coverage of these contacts. That’s not just about track and trace, but about people checking themselves. How can we help them get this done?

An ‘intelligent’ table of locations that tracks user’s checking of the list may help. Maps can remind people of their journey’s path or locations they visit.

Both of the list and the maps are on-line: outreach may be needed for those who are rarely on-line or have no access. Similarly, some people may need more direct encouragement. Tracking people at events may help too.

Some of this may being done, but we’re not hearing much about it publicly. Some of these initiatives could help us as we face COVID-19 over the next few years.

An intimidating list

The list of locations of interest (LOIs) has grown to over 500. All but a few in Auckland. It’s an intimidating list to look at, never mind check to see if you’ve been at one of the locations.

We’re dependent on people checking that list. It’s important we do what we can to help them. More could be done. They’ll mostly be people with very mild or no symptoms, even if they’re infected.

The Delta variant gets about more from people with no symptoms, as described in, Delta’s rise is fuelled by rampant spread from people who feel fine. They report that, “74% of infections with Delta took place during the presymptomatic phase”.

Because New Zealanders haven’t been scanning the QR codes enough (or using other records of their visits), most of identifying if someone has been at a location falls on people to check the list themselves.

We could make it easier to check that intimating list of locations.

Building a better website

There are many ways we could make the website assist users check the locations of interest. Rather than exhaustively explore this, these options illustrate the general idea.

1. The website could record the last time someone visited the page, presenting what is new since then. While the right-most column gives the date new locations are added, it’s easy to forget when you last checked.


2. It’s easy to miss entries when scanning long lists. You could add tick boxes users can click once they checked an entry. It may also help to highlight the “active” row, focusing attention on one row at a time.

3. Another might be to ask users what region they are in, and where they have travelled before presenting the table. This data can be used as an informal survey, and also allow the table to highlight what might be useful to the user.

Some users find visual information better prompts recall of where they’ve been. For this maps might help.


There are now several attempts at presenting the locations of interest using maps. One is by the MoH, linked from the top of the page with the locations of interest.

They’re a bit clumsy unless you zoom right in, but some users may find tracking their movements on a map reminds them of places they’ve visited. (Remember these people have not been contacted by a tracing team, but checking for themselves.)

A bit catch with both the table of locations and maps is that they’re on-line. What about people who are not on-line, or just not very used to using computers?

Is outreach needed to help people check the locations and finally reach all the contacts?

Outreach for those not online

In reporting the limited testing at Samoan centres, journalist Barbara Dreaver mentioned that a lot of the campaign was focused around on-line messaging, rather than within or from communities, and that this was a limitation. It’s likely this observation applies to other communities, too.

Is something similar needed for checking the locations of interest?

There may also be a lack of motivation or interest.

As mentioned earlier this is about where you have been, not how you feel. People may lack motivation is they feel fine.

What might we do to help reach people who need to check where they’ve been, now and in the future?

This isn’t the place to look exhaustively at this (and it’s not my expertise), but it’s worth thinking if we’re missing opportunities to contact people directly.

Would having contact details for passengers undertaking inter-city travel help? Perhaps similar records at hotels or major events?

Some people may feel unhappy about giving away these details, but as a temporary measure during a pandemic or epidemic they may help track down visitors to regions who can be asked to check locations of interest.

Could organisers of events be encouraged to use their advertising channels to prompt those who attended the event to check if they were at locations of interest in their town? (Not necessarily the location their event was at.)

These are not generalised calls through media outlets, but direct contacts. In an ideal world a diary app like the COVID-19 app or similar would all of this, but we’re well short of what is needed for that to work.

Western nations perhaps need to better accept that some loss of privacy is helpful with dealing with large-scale disasters. Sometimes we cling to security and privacy issues too tightly for our own good.

Other articles in Code for life

COVID-19 The rise and rise of Delta (I hope to revise this, as COVID-19 science moves onward fast.)

1000 of these now (links to many things I’ve written, including those below.)

Sea stars and mosaics

Coiling bacterial DNA

Finding platypus venom

Kumara are transgenic

Map shows New Zealand with lowest death rate on earth in 1856, over 11 in 1000 dying


Wastewater testing can help us locate cities and towns infected people are in, but we still have to find those people. In the case of this outbreak, we essentially know these people must have been in Auckland. The more locations of interest there are, the more likely they were at one of those locations.

Featured image

Caption: “Checkout operators wear gloves and work behind protective shields during the COVID-19 pandemic. Taken in a New World supermarket in Rolleston, New Zealand.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons, CCA Share Alike International. Artist: ‘Melanbob’.