Quebec has decided not to follow Ottawa’s lead to roll out a novel coronavirus exposure application at least for now but the provincial government remains open to the idea if there is a resurgence of cases.
Health Minister Christian Dubé and Éric Caire, the province’s minister for digital transformation, announced the decision Tuesday after public consultations. There is support among Quebecers for an application, but privacy concerns were raised by experts during the initiative.
“Several issues were brought up,” Caire told reporters in Montreal.
The three opposition parties in Quebec had also expressed reservations about such an application throughout the process.
The Legault government was considering rolling out an application in September as students head back to school. It would allow the user who downloaded it to be informed of a possible exposure with a person infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The Canadian government launched a “COVID Alert” app to mitigate the spread of the virus in July. It is currently only used in Ontario, where 2.2 million people have downloaded it on their smartphones. Ottawa has described it as an exposure notification app — not a contact-tracing app — as it does not track personal data.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said Tuesday he would like for all Canadians to use the same app.
“Because we know that Canadians can move from one province to another and an application that can identify exposed people is always better,” he said.
When asked about it, Dubé said Quebec has not completely ruled out Ottawa’s initiative, but he stressed the health crisis is currently under control in the province.
“I think we didn’t say no,” he said. “I think we said we didn’t need it right now.”
Dubé said there is “consensus” from Quebecers on the use of an application, but they would only be willing to use it under certain conditions, such as a second wave of the virus.
Thierry Bélair, director of communications for the federal health minister’s office, questioned the province’s decision.
“It’s also an additional tool we can use as we prepare for a possible increase in cases this fall. So why not make it available now in Quebec?” he wrote in a statement.
Quebec, the province hardest hit by the pandemic, reported 62 new cases Tuesday for a total of 61,803.
The province recorded three additional deaths attributable to COVID-19 from the previous day. Two of those deaths occurred in the past 24 hours, while another took place between Aug. 18 and 23.
To date, the respiratory illness has been linked to 5,746 deaths. Authorities say one death was also removed from the total after an investigation found the virus was not the reason for the death.
There are three more Quebecers in hospital, for a total of 118. Of those, the number of patients in intensive care remains unchanged at 12.
— With files from Global News’ Katie Dangerfield and the Canadian Press
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