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Canada’s COVID Alert App ‘Completely Useless’, Health Data Shows Low Uptake

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Canada’s COVID Alert app so far has been downloaded 6.3 million times, with only 21,814 one-time keys issued to those tested positive for COVID-19, to share within the app to notify others of coronavirus exposures.

But now public health data shows COVID-19 isn’t as effective as it was meant to be. According to Global News, Health Canada says only 5% of nearly 535,000 Canadians who tested positive for coronavirus since the app launched have used it to alert others, receiving a one-time key.

The result is the other 95% of people infected with COVID-19 did not utilize COVID Alert, as they either didn’t have the app, didn’t use or couldn’t use it as intended.

“When we’re only seeing a small percentage, in this case under 10 percent, under five percent, of the population using these apps, they’re essentially completely useless,” said Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Calgary, speaking to Global News.

Today, the COVID-19 Exposure Notification App Advisory Council released its first interim report on the COVID Alert app.

The report acknowledges Apple supporting older iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models to download COVID Alert, expanding the reach of the latter to 97.5% of mobile devices.

But COVID Alert still suffered from problems, such as lacklustre one-time keys distributor and overall not enough downloads. B.C., Alberta, Nunavut and the Yukon still do not support COVID Alert.

“We welcome the recommendations the COVID Alert Advisory Council has given to guide the COVID Alert app and thank them for their work. We will continue to work urgently with provinces and territories to ensure that all COVID Alert users who are diagnosed with COVID-19 receive a one-time key,” said Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, in a statement.

Canada’s Public Health Agency spent $480,000 developing COVID Alert, while  $16 million was set aside to promote the app, for a total cost of $16.5 million.

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 key from their provincial health authority.

Provinces currently supporting COVID Alert:

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

Still waiting for:

  • Alberta (still waiting)
  • British Columbia (still waiting)
  • Nunavut
  • Yukon

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