Canada Faces Pushback on COVID-19 Contact Tracing App: Health Minister

Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters on Monday the government has faced resistance from other parts of the country in regards to a COVID-19 contact tracing app.

According to CTV News, Hajdu said “some jurisdictions prefer” contact tracing to be done “the old-fashioned way,” which means making phone calls to local health agencies. These phone calls then track down people who may have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

“As the minister of health of course, having a digital contact tracing app would likely be helpful,” said Hajdu. “One of the things that I think from a health perspective we’re keeping our eye on is the usefulness of an app if there is not a high take-up,” she added.

The Health Minister said other regions already using their own digital tracing solutions for COVID-19—and these might continue—which may result in defragmented solutions as various apps would be in play.

Hajdu said whatever digital solution is decided, “it has to be an app that Canadians will feel comfortable using and that we can gain momentum with.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an update on Monday, “We need to co-operate on countrywide testing and contact tracing,” noting there was “good progress” being made on a solution. Trudeau formerly said the Canadian government was in talks with Apple and Google for the latter’s COVID-19 contact tracing solution.

Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification contact tracing solution only limits one app per country, if a nation is to adopt the latter’s idea.

One other issue at stake is Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien acknowledging last week he has not been consulted on a digital contact tracing app. Therrien previously emphasized with his provincial counterparts any contact tracing app must have privacy protections in mind, in the event of a leak or hack.

When asked whether the Privacy Commissioner would be consulted on a digital tracing app, Hajdu sidestepped the question without a clear answer.

Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) and industry critic, Michelle Rempel Garner, said it was “absolutely unacceptable” the privacy commissioner had not been consulted by Ottawa, in regards to deciding on a digital contact tracing app. Garner said “it is difficult to underscore the potential for disaster in the event of a leak or hack,” in the event a contact tracing app was compromised.