Coronavirus contact tracing app to launch nationally in coming weeks: Trudeau

A smartphone app developed to help with coronavirus contact tracing efforts will be launched nationally in the coming weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Thursday.

Trudeau said the app, which will be tested in Ontario, will notify users if they’re been exposed to COVID-19 and its use will be “completely voluntary.”

“At no time will personal information be collected and shared and no location services will be used,” Trudeau said. “The privacy of Canadian will be fully respected.”

READ MORE: What is coronavirus contact tracing and how important is it as Canada reopens?

The prime minister’s update came as Canada’s COVID-19 count surpassed 100,000 known cases and about four weeks after he said the federal government was reviewing several smartphone apps and gearing up to “recommend strongly” a particular app.

However, on June 1, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said discussions with the provinces and territories about an app were ongoing and suggested that some jurisdictions “prefer” normal contact tracing methods: having dedicated people call individuals who have tested positive for the virus and track down any close contacts of theirs in the two weeks prior.

1:54Alberta’s contact tracing app to get software update, but problems continue

Alberta’s contact tracing app to get software update, but problems continue

With an app, the idea is to have technology help with that effort, which is considered crucial to limiting the spread of virus.

However, the federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners — as well as other privacy experts — have warned that using a digital app as public health tool could have “significant implications” for Canadians’ privacy, given the data being collected. The commissioners also called for voluntary use of the apps to build “public trust.”

READ MORE: Consent for coronavirus tracing apps must be ‘meaningful’, Canada’s privacy watchdog says

The province of Alberta already launched and is using its own app, called ABTraceTogether. In early May, Ontario’s premier called for a national contact tracing strategy.

The Canadian Digital Service, Shopify, BlackBerry and the government of Ontario have all been involved in the app the federal government is endorsing, Trudeau said.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford will say more about how the app will be tested in the province, the prime minister said.

-With a files from the Canadian Press

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