Why the COVID Alert app never took off in Canada

By Tom Yun

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2022-06-17 (TVC network) – Health Canada announced on Friday that the COVID Alert app had been shut down, citing low usage, declining case counts and hospitalizations as well as a lack of PCR testing across Canada. Starting June 17, the app will no longer provide exposure notifications and Health Canada says users can now delete the app. The app had only been downloaded 6.9 million times and had 63,117 positive tests since its launch in July 2020. British Columbia, Alberta, Nunavut and Yukon also declined to participate to the application. Infectious disease expert Dr Isaac Bogoch calls the app a ‘good idea at the time’ but says after six to eight months low usage meant the app ‘wasn’t really going well be an effective tool. “It’s going to be difficult to gauge the true impact of the app and unfortunately it probably wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be,” Bogoch told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday. “The app has only been downloaded to just under seven million devices, which is nowhere near enough for something like this to be effective. You really need about 60-70% of population for having an app like this. The app worked by keeping track of other users who have been in close proximity to you using Bluetooth signals. Users who tested positive through a PCR test could receive a unique key to enter the app and alert other users that they have been in close contact with a positive case. This process was sometimes disjointed. If a user was in a jurisdiction that did not automatically issue a key, they had to contact his local public health unit to obtain one.But since most provinces now restrict eligibility for the PCR test to healthcare workers, hospitalized patients, residents of institutions long-term care facilities and others deemed to be at higher risk, the majority of users who contract COVID-19 were unable to obtain a one-time test. key, as the keys are not returned after a quick test, further reducing the effectiveness of the app In December, Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister John Haggie told reporters that the The federal government had “dropped” the app months ago, although Haggie later backtracked on his comments and Health Canada reiterated the federal government’s commitment to the app at the time. In March, Manitoba also ended use of the app and no longer distributes one-time keys. Alberta has its own contact tracing app known as ABTraceTogether, but the province has announced that the app will be decommissioned on June 23. , phone contacts and personal information of other app users who were nearby. When the app was first launched, the federal and Ontario privacy commissioners conducted a review of the app and gave their support, saying it had been ” developed with strong safeguards to protect the identity of users”.

Bogoch thinks some of the measures designed to protect the privacy of Canadians, like making the app voluntary, may have hindered its success. In Singapore, the adoption rate for the country’s COVID contact tracing app is 92%, as use of the app has been made mandatory to enter many public spaces. “This app involves people having to download it and then have to report that they do indeed have COVID,” he said. “That’s probably not the best way to make it work. I’m not even sure that an app-based approach in a place like Canada would be a good idea in terms of an effective way to do contact tracing in the future, just because of the importance we place on our private life. But despite the app’s low usage, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr Theresa Tam, said it was nonetheless important that innovations like this take place during a challenge of public health. “Not every innovation may work in different populations, but I think it’s good that there’s been a good try to use another tool in the current age of apps to try to protect the population,” she told reporters during a COVID-19 press briefing on Friday afternoon. Health Canada says all app data will be deleted, except for aggregate performance metrics that contain no personally identifiable data. With files from CTVNews.caby Sarah Turnbull and The Canadian Press.

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Lance B. Holton