Canada is prepared to launch a contact-tracing app to better track the spread of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday (June 18) that the nationwide app will first launch in Ontario in early July before being deployed in other provinces.
The app was developed in collaboration between the Canadian Digital Service, the Government of Ontario, BlackBerry Ltd. and Shopify Inc.
Trudeau added the B.C. government has also been working in collaboration with the contact-tracing app partners, but it is first being tested in Ontario.
If an app user tests positive for COVID-19, a health-care professional will help the patient anonymously upload their status.
The app will then alert other users who’ve been in close contact with the COVID-19-positive patient.
No personal information is ever shared and no location services info is collected.
Trudeau said use of the app is completely voluntary but emphasized that it will be more effective the more Canadians who use it.
“It’s an extra layer of protection that goes with everything else we’re doing,” the prime minister said, adding it would serve as a tool to help reopen the economy.
While contact-tracing apps in other countries have delivered mixed results, Trudeau said the difference here comes down to the simplicity of Canada’s app.
Recent updates on Google’s and Apple Inc.’s respective operating systems now allow the app to run in the background of a smartphone, rather than draining a phone’s battery.
The app itself will be adjusted for each province so that residents will receive regionalized information for local health services if they receive an alert notifying they’ve come in close contact with a COVID-19-positive patient.
Such an app may raise privacy concerns from many Canadians — an issue Trudeau said may result in less uptake.
But he insisted that the federal government has consulted with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the app itself would not share any identifiers such as a phone number or address.
Instead, the app will generate a randomized code that will be used for the alerts.
The code will be stored in what the prime minister described as a secure national database.
Trudeau said the app would be beneficial for anyone who uses it but will become “extraordinarily useful” if 50% or more of Canadians download it.
It would also provide the government with a better sense of spikes of COVID-19 in certain regions — not based on location tracking but based on whether local health authorities receive an increase in phone calls asking for assistance following an alert.
The prime minister also acknowledged Canada losing its bid to secure a temporary seat on the UN Security Council a day earlier.
“We obviously would have hoped for a different result yesterday,” Trudeau said, adding his government’s efforts laid the foundation for greater global co-operation in the future and Canada would continue to defend its values on the world stage.