Ontario set to test COVID tracing app
June 24, 2020
TORONTO – A new Bluetooth-based COVID-19 contact tracing app developed in Canada is set to be rolled out for testing in Ontario in early July, provincial officials said. The app, called COVID Alert, was built using open-source code by the Ontario Digital Service, in conjunction with a volunteer team from Ottawa-based Shopify.
“As we take our contact tracing strategy to the next level today, I want to thank the federal government for … supporting a privacy-first app that will protect both Ontarians and Canadians alike,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford (pictured).
Use of the app will be voluntary. If someone tests positive for COVID-19, a healthcare provider will give them a unique temporary code, so they can upload their status anonymously to a national network. Other users who have downloaded the app and come into contact with that person will be notified, through the app, that they may have been exposed to the virus.
The app will also provide users with information on steps they can take to keep themselves and others safe. The federal government is working with the provinces and territories so they can customize public health information based on their own jurisdiction.
The Canadian Digital Service is leading the development of the app, in collaboration with the Ontario Digital Service and building upon technology developed by Shopify volunteers. The app will undergo a security review by BlackBerry. It incorporates Bluetooth technology provided by Apple and Google to anonymously record instances where users have come into close contact.
The app, which will be available for download on a volunteer basis, is meant to supplement contact tracing efforts already in place by public health authorities. The aim is to reduce the amount of time it takes to notify all the people who have been potentially exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.
Ontario hopes to have the app available for download on July 2 for iPhones running iOS 5.0 or later and for Android phones running Android 6.0 or later. The federal government wants to eventually have it in use across Canada in the coming months as the threat of a potential second wave of infections looms, officials said.
The intellectual property for the app will be owned by the federal government.
The federal government is also lending personnel to Ontario help in the fight against COVID-19. To augment the current provincial capacity of approximately 2,000 case managers and contact tracers, new and expanded capacity will be provided through Statistics Canada with access to up to 1,700 additional staff, available to all provinces, for contact tracing. Public Health Ontario will continue overseeing the training and coordination of these additional resources.
Over the summer and into the fall, the Ontario government said it will continue to build a supplementary pool of contact tracers from the Ontario Public Service and the broader public sector for additional surge capacity, as required. This will allow public health units to perform their other critical functions, including inspections of food premises and water in recreational facilities, and vaccinations.