To promote downloads of the COVID Alert exposure notification app for iOS and Android, the Government of Canada will spend up to $10 million as part of an awareness campaign.
That’s according to Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray, sharing the stat with The Logic. Murray says she expects “all the provinces and territories” to be eventually part of COVID Alert, which has surpassed 1.5 million downloads since launching one week ago.
While Ottawa will spend millions on a marketing campaign, Apple and Google will promote the app for free. Apple has already started promoting COVID Alert in the App Store, with the app being featured when it launched in late July.
Currently, only Ontario’s health authority is part of COVID Alert and able to issue one-time codes for people to use to alert others of their positive COVID-19 test.
COVID Alert works by using Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification API, allowing Bluetooth to work in the system background for anonymous “handshakes” with nearby devices.
Murray said due to the amount of interprovincial travel in Canada, a national exposure notification system is the “best way forward” forward for the country. It’s worth noting Apple and Google are only allowing one app per country to use its API.
This means provincial contact tracing apps such as ABTraceTogether won’t be able to use the API and users will continue to be forced to leave phones unlocked with the app open for it to work effectively.
As for why COVID Alert only works on devices running iOS 13.5 or later and Android 6.0 or newer, Murray says it was in Apple and Google’s hands, saying it was an API-related issue. The federal government has faced criticism over the lack of support for older iPhones and Android smartphones.
While COVID Alert was never made to be a one-fit solution for everyone, Murray emphasized younger people—an “extremely relevant target”—have newer phones able to support the voluntary app.
COVID Alert is set to launch in early September in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Also–COVID Alert now works in iOS 14 beta 4, as the latter now supports the Exposure Notification API.