Coronavirus contact-tracing app to launch nationally in early July, Trudeau says

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

Trudeau said the app, which will be tested in Ontario, will notify users if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and its use will be “completely voluntary” — but he argued the digital tool will be “most effective” if as many people as possible download and use it.

“At no time will personal information be collected and shared, and no location services will be used,” the prime minister said. “The privacy of Canadians will be fully respected.”

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

Trudeau’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.

Contact tracing is considered crucial to limiting the spread of the coronavirus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health authorities have had dedicated people call individuals who tested positive for the virus and track down any close contacts of theirs in the two weeks prior.

2:01Rare look at crucial ‘contact tracing’ during COVID-19 outbreak

Rare look at crucial ‘contact tracing’ during COVID-19 outbreak

Having one app available across the country will provide a “layer of additional effort” to manual contact tracing, Trudeau said on Thursday. He said there are more than 30 million smartphones in Canada that are compatible with the app.

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. 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

Trudeau confirmed use of the nationwide app will be voluntary and said it “functions entirely on an anonymized basis.”

Each user will have a randomized code associated with their phone, he said. If a user tests positive for the virus, a health-care professional will help them upload their test status anonymously to a national network.

Other app users whose devices have been in proximity to the phone belonging to the person with the coronavirus will then be alerted that they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. That notification will encourage those other people to reach out to their local public health authorities, according to Trudeau.

Trudeau said the nationwide app has been developed in partnership with Shopify, BlackBerry, the government of Ontario and the Canadian Digital Service, a federal agency.

READ MORE: Apple, Google developing technology to aid in coronavirus tracking

The Canadian Digital Service will control the “secure” national database that will hold all the randomized codes, the prime minister said.

Canada’s privacy commissioner “has been worked with” on the app, which Trudeau described as “super simple and “super secure.”

“It’s something that you can just download and forget about,” he said. “This is an approach that we are confident is going to make a big difference.”

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

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who in early May called for a national contact-tracing strategy, is expected to provide more details about how the app will work in that province on Wednesday afternoon.

The province of Alberta already launched and is using its own app, called ABTraceTogether.

-With a file from the Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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