Australian authorities are using the cellphone location data of a Chinese couple infected with the coronavirus to retrace their steps through the country.
The practice, which is normally reserved for criminal investigations, was carried out in an effort to learn who the couple interacted with after traveling from China to Australia in January.
Authorities say the action was taken out of concern for public safety and that the incident represents the first time cellphone location data has been used in such a manner in Australia.
“It’s a first for us and from discussions with interstate counterparts it hasn’t been done elsewhere in Australia,” local health official Dr. Nicola Spurrier told the Advertiser.
Although the couple initially said they self-isolated once arriving in the country, investigators later discovered that they had first spent at least two days traveling around the city of Adelaide
During interviews with the couple, who are currently isolated at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, authorities say they learned that the pair had visited a home auction held by a local real estate company. That company and its staff have since been placed on lockdown while police attempt to locate other attendees.
“The data will be very important to verify the places this couple have been, the exact locations, the times and the time this couple have been in those locations,” Spurrier added.
Authorities are also in the process of contacting everyone who was on the same flight as the Chinese nationals, China Southern Airlines flight CZ 663.
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens noted that the location data was derived not from the devices themselves but from the use of the phones. Cellphones are constantly pinging nearby cell towers in order to find the strongest signal. That data can then be used to map out where a phone has been.
Current statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) state that 28,403 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, with 567 deaths linked to the disease.
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