Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been urging Canadians to download the COVID alert application on their smartphones to curb the spread of coronavirus, but Alberta and British Columbia are pulling their heels.
At a news conference on Friday, Trudeau encouraged Canadians to download the “most effective” COVID warning app. He said talks were ongoing with BC and Alberta, the only provinces not to adopt the application.
Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor of Emerging Viruses at the University of Manitoba and Canadian Research Chair, confirmed that the application, called “another tool” to limit the spread of COVID, is needed “on a large scale” to have an impact on the Canadian population.
“If we only have a limited number of applications, use, apparently, dots, (and) it does not give us extra protection, or the ability to detect those cases faster than we do (do it now),” he told Ipolitics on Friday.
The app works by alerting users if they have been in contact with another user of the app tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes. So far, only users in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador can report a diagnosis in the app.
Steve Buick, press secretary for Alberta Health Minister Tyler Sandro, said the province is working with Ottawa to convert nearly 245,000 users of Alberta’s own tracer app to a federal program.
Alberta was the first province to launch its own app, called ABTraceTogether, but the Apple version of this app was obsolete, requiring users to unlock their phones from time to time and run them on the front.
BC is also in talks with the Fed about implementing the app.
Kindrachuk said most provinces immediately adopted the application, with Manitoba and Quebec initially falling behind. Two provinces have since adopted it. He said that when the app was launched in the summer, the number of cases was very low and stable. Now, as cases continue to grow, he said, tests have its limitations and it is impossible to know where the cases originated.
Regional health officials are now realizing the benefit of the app, Kindrachuk said. We need the tool, we need anything right now to help stop the transmission. ”
As of Friday morning, nearly 4.5 million Canadians had downloaded the app, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. This is an increase of 1.75 million downloads from 2.75 million after Trudeau spoke about the COVID warning at his nationwide address on September 23rd. Another 1,603 users entered the code into the application, thus testing positive users so that they could warn other users that they have been exposed to the coronavirus and should be tested.
“Throughout this epidemic, we are working with all government mandates to ensure that Canadians receive the support they need to stay safe and healthy,” PMO Press Secretary Alex Wellstead said in a statement to Ipolitics. “We are therefore pleased to see the positive growth of the COVID Alert app nationwide. ”
Read more: Trudeau resumes briefings after boosting downloads of his national address COVID alert app
Kindrachuk said he understands why some Canadians have reservations about downloading the app, saying government messages should be consistent: although the app is linked to health, it does not link in any way to personal health records. He rInforming the public that personal identification information will not be collected through the app will increase its use.
“Getting the signal on your phone is very easy, ‘you should go and get tested, or consult a public health professional to find out if you want to get tested,” he said.
In fact, Kindrachuk said the privacy built into the COVID alert is one of the limitations of the app, because contract tracers cannot use it to determine the physical location of people who have tested positive.
The app has no way of determining the user’s location, name, address, health information or phone contacts. The user will not even have access to anyone’s health information.
The COVID alert does not force users to hand over any personal information. Instead, it uses Bluetooth technology for users to exchange random codes with other phones nearby.
Regional health authorities are responsible for distributing signals to people who test positive for COVID-19.
Read more: Canada’s COVID-19 ‘Exposure Notification’ app launched in Ontario and does not track location data
“As the Prime Minister said, we are on the verge of a fall that is far worse than spring,” PMO press secretary Wellstead said. “We must all take the necessary steps to combat COVID-19: stay home when you’ve sick, wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance whenever possible, and download the COVID warning app.”
With files from Charlie Pinkerton.