Residents of Ontario can download a new app that can tell them whether they have been around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 over the previous two weeks.
But while government officials say the goal is to make the COVID Alert contact notification app available across the country and are in talks with other provinces, they could not say when it will be available outside Ontario.
Nor would they say why only one province has agreed to adopt what it supposed to be a national app.
The app is the federal government’s latest move in the battle to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as Canada’s economy gradually reopens.
Canadians can download the app to their mobile phones, which will use bluetooth technology to exchange signals with nearby phones. If someone tests positive for COVID, their public health authority will give them a one-time key to enter in the app. The app will then send out notices to every phone that has been within two metres for at least 15 minutes of the phone of the person who tested positive over the previous 14 days if they, too, have downloaded the app.
Those who receive a notification will also receive instructions on what to do next.
Officials say the more people who download the app, the more effective it will be and stressed that it is a notification app, not a contact-tracing app.
Voluntary to download app
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among those who have downloaded the app.
“I want to be clear: this app isn’t mandatory,” he told reporters. “It’s completely voluntary to download and to use.”
Other provinces such as New Brunswick have worked to develop their own apps.
Trudeau said the federal government is working with the Atlantic provinces to integrate their system with the app next.
While anyone across Canada can download the app, they will only get alerts if they have been near someone who is in a province that has integrated the app with its testing system.
In addition, while the Android version requires users to turn on their location settings, officials maintain the app will not know a user’s location, name, address, when they were near someone or if they are currently near someone who was previously diagnosed.
For users of Apple devices, the app works on operating systems iOS 13.5 and higher, meaning some people might have to either upgrade their operating systems or not be able to use it on older smartphones.
Officials said the government has been working with federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien’s office to address any privacy concerns.