Canadians can now know if they’ve been near someone who tests positive for COVID-19 if they voluntarily download a federally-funded smartphone app.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the COVID Alert app Friday (July 31), telling reporters during a news conference that he’s downloaded it to his own phone while encouraging other Canadians to do the same.
“Health experts say that if enough people sign up, this app can help prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19 in Canada,” Trudeau said while visiting the Public Health Agency of Canada in Ottawa.
The app is currently only linked to Ontario’s health system. Atlantic provinces will soon be linking their health systems to the app. It’s unclear when or if B.C. will join.
The concept of the app was announced back in mid-June, drawing concern by privacy advocates across the country. At the time, B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry questioned the benefit of a notification app that relies on many people agreeing to use it in order to be effective.
“I think there is probably a place for it. It’s not an answer in and of itself. It is a piece, a tool, that we might be able to use,” she said at the time.
On Friday, Trudeau confirmed the app doesn’t collect names, addresses or geolocation and instead uses random Bluetooth codes unique to each device to track where a person’s phone has been.
“I want to be clear: this app isn’t mandatory. It’s completely voluntary to download and to use,” he said.
Those who download and sign up to use the app will be notified if their phone has recently been near the phone of someone else who agrees to share within the app that they have tested positive for COVID-19.
If a person with COVID-19 signs into the app, a notification is sent to any other user whose phone has been within two metres of their phone for more than 15 minutes within the past two weeks.
The app is designed to then give health advice, such as calling 811 for those in B.C.
Some politicians and commentators have been skeptical of whether many will use the voluntary app. A Statistics Canada poll released Friday suggested that Canadians are on the fence about using contact tracing apps.
According to the results, about 25 per cent of respondents aged 25 to 64 said they’d likely take part in such an initiative, while another 25 per cent said the opposite.
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