Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, outside his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, on Friday, April 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Contact tracing needs to balance public health benefits with privacy: Trudeau

Tam says such technology could make it easier to manage the spread of COVID-19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is leaving the door open to using digital technology to try to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus through tracking down contacts of people who have it, but says it needs to be done in a way that protects the privacy of Canadians.

“Getting that balance right will be extremely important,” Trudeau said Wednesday in Ottawa.

Countries such as South Korea and Singapore have used cellphones and other digital technology to track people’s movements and warn about potential contacts with individuals who have COVID-19 to slow the spread of the virus.

A number of provinces have since suggested they are looking at voluntary programs to conduct contact tracing, which is usually performed by public health officials who carefully question patients about where they have been and with whom they’ve interacted.

“We have a number of proposals and companies working on different models that might be applicable to Canada but as we move forward on taking decisions, we’re going to keep in mind that Canadians put a very high value on their privacy, on their data security,” Trudeau said.

“We need to make sure we respect that, even in a time of emergency measures and significant difficulty and crisis,” adding that voluntary measures could be one way to resolve that issue.

One possibility is a system that would send alerts to smartphones that have recently been close to devices carried by people who test positive for the novel coronavirus.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says that in addition to privacy concerns, the technology itself remains unproven and will need to be refined to ensure false positives and other issues do not emerge.

“Those kinds of characteristics are not what you want to have, because that would alarm a whole bunch of people. They may then show up to be tested when in fact they were not at risk,” Tam said Wednesday during a media briefing in Ottawa.

READ MORE: Canada’s top doctor defends mask advice as country hits 50,000 COVID-19 cases

Tam says such technology could make it easier to manage the spread of COVID-19, but it should be guided by public health officials who are on the front lines of contact tracing.

“Whatever we have has to complement the work. It can’t sort of replace the work,” she said.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusJustin Trudeauprivacy

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATE: Man from Mexico reported missing in Abbotsford has been located

Police report that Antonio Fernandez, 29, has been found safe and sound

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak declared over

Dr. Bonnie Henry hails work done to halt outbreak, which saw more than 130 people contract COVID-19

Man who broke into Abbotsford post office receives four more months in jail

Gary Patrick Richard sentenced for break-in and mail theft from April 20

Chilliwack teachers and EAs concerned with health and safety plans

As schools get ready to open, many worry measures won’t be enough to protect students from COVID-19

Police say Chilliwack driver who flipped car on overpass Sunday was impaired

Witnesses say rollover incident was preceded by vehicle and motorcycles speeding all over town

Mission prison COVID-19 outbreak ends, 9 new cases in B.C.

New positive test at Port Coquitlam care home

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

New platform allows readers to make a one-time or ongoing donation to support local journalism

VIDEO: Humpback whales put on quite a show

The ‘playful’ pod lingered by a Campbell River tour operator’s boat for quite some time

Getting hitched at historic B.C. gold rush town still on table during COVID-19 pandemic

Micro-weddings, online visits, offered at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

VIDEO: Police look for suspect seen tripping elderly woman in Burnaby

The elderly woman was walking near the SkyTrain station when she was randomly tripped

Revelstoke woman finds welcoming letter on her Alberta-registered truck

There have been multiple reports online of vandalism to vehicles with Alberta licence plates

Spirit bear possibly spotted in West Kootenay

A local resident spotted the white-coloured bear while on an evening trail run near Castlegar on May 27

B.C. businesses ‘can’t shoulder burden’ of COVID-19 sick pay

Trudeau’s plan should be tied to federal emergency aid

B.C. teacher reprimanded for sharing homophobic and sexist memes, making racist comments

Klaus Hardy Breslauer was accused of making a laundry list of concerning decisions as a science teacher

Most Read