New COVID-19 exposure-alert smartphone app available

Remigio Civitarese
Agosto 2, 2020

OTTAWA, AB- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, announced that the app "COVID Alert" is now available to download.

While a user in any province can download the app, Canadians outside of Ontario will see the message "We'll let you know as soon as people in your area can report a diagnosis through COVID Alert", until their province links it to their system.

According to the Canadian government, its contact tracing app "helps us break the cycle of infection [and] can let people know of possible exposures before any symptoms appear". If someone tests positive, they can enter a code provided by health authorities and anyone they've been within two metres of for at least 15 minutes within the previous 14 days will be notified.

Jill Clayton, Alberta's information and privacy commissioner, raised concerns about the AHS ABTraceTogether app, saying the Alberta government's coronavirus smartphone contact tracing application does indeed run "a security risk" for users of Apple devices. Plus, Android users must turn on location services to use the Bluetooth function, although officials said the app's permission settings do not permit location collection. The "COVID Alert" is now available in Ontario, with expected availability across the remainder of Canada's provinces and territories by summer's end.

As the prime minister announced Ontario would have first access to the Canada-wide COVID notification app, B.C. health officials refused to say when the app would be activated for residents of the country's westernmost province.

"I've downloaded the app this morning, and I encourage you to do the same".

Anyone receiving such a notification is directed to contact their local health authority for instructions. The app was designed by the Canadian Digital Service using open source code from Shopify.

The use of the app is voluntary and has been developed with robust safeguards to protect the identity of users.

To meet the necessity and proportionality principle, both governments must monitor the app's implementation and effectiveness and independent oversight will be important to foster public trust.

Traditional contact tracing-people making calls for various public health agencies to help track down anyone who may have come into contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases-will continue across Canada.

"This is again cause for modernizing our laws so that they effectively protect Canadian citizens".

The federal government led the development of the app, which is being launched today first in Ontario.

"This Ontario-made app keeps people informed about being potentially exposed to the virus and allows them to act quickly to stop the spread of the virus".

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