Sask. government assessing federal COVID Alert app

The federal government's COVID Alert app can be downloaded in Saskatchewan, but the province has not signed-off on its use.

App alerts user if they have been in close contact with positive COVID-19 case

The COVID Alert app tracks the locations of phones relative to other phones, and notifies users if they have been in proximity to another app user who has tested positive for COVID-19. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The federal government's COVID Alert app can be downloaded in Saskatchewan, but the province has not signed-off on its use.

The application uses Bluetooth technology to determine if a user has come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and notify them so they can self-isolate and prevent further spread of the virus. The user is not told who tested positive.

The app launched on July 31 and is currently only functional in Ontario. 

"Activation in Saskatchewan would require an agreement between Health Canada and the Ministry of Health," Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health said in a statement.

"Initial communication between Health Canada and the Ministry of Health has occurred, and the Ministry of Health is assessing the platform to determine how it would integrate with Saskatchewan's current contact tracing efforts."

Alberta's government confirmed it was switching from its own app to the national one.

Quebec has said it will not use the application to notify the public about potential exposure to COVID-19 for now, arguing its testing and contact-tracing capability are sufficient at this stage of the pandemic.

"The provincial government should be examining all possible options to keep people in Saskatchewan safe, including participating in and promoting the federal government's COVID Alert app," the Saskatchewan NDP said in a statement.

How COVID Alert works

When a user of the app is diagnosed with COVID-19, they're given a one-time code to input, which then alerts others with whom they has been in close contact recently. The feature is built on a framework jointly developed by Apple and Google.

To ensure better privacy, the data is stored on individual devices, not on a central server. The drawback is there's no way of knowing how many users have received an exposure notification.

If you are in Saskatchewan and have the COVID Alert App, you will get this message. The provincial government has not made an agreement with the federal government to enabled the app. (CBC)

The federal privacy commissioner's office was consulted on the application and approved its use.

"We are satisfied that exceptionally strong measures have been adopted by the government to ensure that the identity of users is protected and not disclosed to the Government of Canada," the federal privacy review said.

The federal government's COVID Alert website said the app does not use GPS or track the user's location. It said the app is not meant to replace manual contact tracing.

As of Aug. 13, 1.9 million people had downloaded the app.

with files from Sarah Rieger and Thomas Daigle


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