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Canada’s COVID Alert App Cost Taxpayers $20 Million Dollars

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Canada’s voluntary COVID Alert app was hailed as a digital solution to combat COVID-19 and new data reveals how much the federal government has spent on the app.

According to The Canadian Press, new data obtained reveals Ottawa spent $3.5 million on COVID Alert to develop and maintain the app. However, the bulk of funds was spent on advertising and promoting the app, to the tune of $15.9 million dollars.

This is 59% over the original budget announced by Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray back in August 2020. At the time, Murray told The Logic the government would invest up to $10 million to promote COVID Alert, but clearly, the budget ballooned more than expected.

Downloads of COVID Alert, as of July 4, 2021, are at 6.58 million downloads, with 33,991 one-time keys issued. That works out to about only 1 in 5 Canadians downloading COVID Alert.

The Canadian Press also reports data collected from the government only started in February 2021, despite COVID Alert launching in September 2020. From February 25 to May 31, 2021, COVID Alert sent out nearly 70,000 exposure notifications. It’s unknown whether some of these could be duplicate alerts for the same individuals, such as those working in healthcare regularly exposed to the coronavirus.

Back in March, COVID Alert had 6.3 million downloads and already was showing signs of not being as effective as it was made out to be. Health Canada said only 5% of the nearly 535,000 Canadians who tested positive for COVID-19 had used the app to alert others with a one-time key.

As of July 5, 2021, Ottawa says 25,459,240 people (66.99% of the population) have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The numbers show 39.8% of the population is partially vaccinated, while 27.1% of the population is fully vaccinated. The widespread rollout of vaccines is more effective than COVID Alert.

How Does COVID Alert Work?

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

Not available in:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Nunavut
  • Yukon

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