B.C. Still Hesitant to Adopt COVID Alert, App Isn’t Seen as Useful Yet

British Columbia’s provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is not ready to adopt Canada’s COVID Alert app just yet, despite a record number of COVID-19 spikes over the weekend.

On Monday, Dr. Henry told the media, “There are some parameters that they’ve built into the federal app that we don’t feel work and we believe would cause more concern and frustration as we’ve seen in some other provinces,” according to CBC News.

“We’re still negotiating with the federal government about modifying it to meet the needs so that it would be useful for us,” said the provincial health officer.

This past weekend B.C. saw 817 new cases of COVID-19, a spike for the province and largest number ever over a three day period. Dr. Henry said the spikes were a result of Thanksgiving gatherings.

What’s wrong with Canada’s COVID Alert app? B.C. believes it’s essentially too good at protecting your privacy. Dr. Henry explained the province wants more specific times recorded of when COVID-19 exposures happen.

“What we really would like to see is an app that we could download when we’re at a celebration or a party or a church service, so that we can identity those specific times when there may have been somebody with COVID who was in that vicinity,” said Henry, calling the app “very non-specific”.

COVID Alert is able to go back 14 days, which B.C.’s top doctor says is not relevant since those infected with COVID-19 are not spreaders for the entire two weeks.

“I know they’ve committed to addressing some of those issues but we’ve not reached an agreement to address [them],” Henry said, adding, “But it’s not at the point where it would be helpful for what we are managing here in B.C. for our pandemic right now.”

What Dr. Henry wants won’t be available within COVID Alert, as the app was created to protect user privacy by Apple and Google.

Canada’s COVID Alert app is based on Google and Apple’s exposure notification framework, which leverages Bluetooth on devices for anonymous “handshakes” in the background. The app does not use GPS info or collect any user data. It has been vetted as safe by Canada’s privacy commissioner and provincial counterparts.

When someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can anonymously alert others that may have been in contact using COVID Alert, by obtaining a one-time use from their provincial health authority.

B.C., along with Alberta, are two of the most populous provinces still holding out on adopting COVID Alert.

Provinces currently supporting COVID Alert:

  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Ontario
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Nova Scotia
  • Prince Edward Island

Still waiting for:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nunavut
  • Yukon

Recently, the government of Canada acknowledged there was a bug within the COVID Alert app, and urged Canadians to update to iOS 14.0.1 to resolve the issue.

Download links: 

As of October 22, COVID Alert has been downloaded 4.8 million times, with 2,387 one-time keys issued, according to the federal government.