New COVID-19 contact tracing app to be tested in Ontario starting in July

A new Bluetooth-based COVID-19 contact tracing app developed in Canada is set to be rolled out for testing in Ontario next month, provincial officials said Thursday.

Ontario records fewer than 200 new cases for the 5th straight day

All but three of Ontario's 34 public health units have now moved into the next phase of the province's reopening plan. (Timothy Neesam/CBC)

A new Bluetooth-based COVID-19 contact tracing app developed in Canada is set to be rolled out for testing in Ontario next month, provincial officials said Thursday.

The app, called COVID Alert, was built using open-source code by the Ontario Digital Service, in conjunction with a volunteer team from Ottawa-based Shopify. A separate volunteer team at Blackberry helped with a security audit of the technology, provincial officials said at a technical briefing for the media today.

Similar technology is already in use in other jurisdictions, like Germany and Japan. 

The app doesn't store or share any personal or medical information or GPS-location data, but rather uses randomly generated, anonymous codes and Bluetooth signals between phones that also have the app downloaded to keep track of the proximity and duration of a certain contact.

A user will receive a notification on their smartphone screen if they have had prolonged, close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and also uses the app. It then provides public health advice and what steps anyone who has been exposed can take.

The app, which will be available for download on a volunteer basis, is meant to supplement contact tracing efforts already in place by public health authorities. The aim is to reduce the amount of time it takes to notify all the people who have been potentially exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.

App users will see a notification like this if they are exposed to COVID-19. (Ontario)

Ontario hopes to have the app available for download on July 2 for iPhones running iOS 5.0 or later and for Android phones running Android 6.0 or later. The federal government wants to eventually have it in use across Canada in the coming months as the threat of a potential second wave of infections looms, officials said.

The intellectual property for the app will be owned by the federal government.

Speaking at his daily COVID-19 briefing, Premier Doug Ford said that privacy for users was the top priority in the development of COVID Alert. While its success will rely on Ontarians voluntarily downloading and using it, Ford said he hopes there will be widespread uptake.

"We need people to download this app, it's going to protect us, it's going to protect your families," he told reporters.

5th straight day of new cases below 200

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 173 additional cases of COVID-19 today, and the Ministry of Health says that more than 85 per cent of all cases are now resolved.

It's the fifth straight day that the number of new cases has been below 200.

Twenty-six of the province's 34 public health units reported five or fewer additional confirmed cases, and 16 of those had no new cases at all.

Toronto and Peel Region, two of the three public health units not yet allowed to move into the next phase of reopening, combined for just 97 newly confirmed cases.

"We hope the final three will be following shortly," said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health.

There are now about 2,360 active COVID-19 cases province-wide. 

The province's network of community, commercial and hospital labs processed 25,278 tests yesterday, while another 24,887 are in the queue waiting to be completed. 

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of the illness continued its steady decline, falling by 32 down to 351. Those being treated in intensive care units decreased by eight to 84, while those requiring a ventilator also dropped by five and now sits at 60.

Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll grew by three, up to 2,553. A CBC News count based on data from regional public health units put the real toll at 2,605. About 78 per cent of all COVID-19-linked deaths were residents in long-term care. 

The news comes one day after Ford's government tabled a motion in the legislature to extend the province's state of emergency to July 15.

"The premier is hopeful that this will be the final extension," a spokeswoman from his office said of the measure, which will be debated next week.

If the state of emergency does expire on July 15, the province will still have the power to enforce emergency measures such as limitations on gatherings and bans on large events.

However, those restrictions can only be extended, not amended or altered.

"We are taking the time necessary to carefully review all emergency orders issued and determine the best next steps, should the declaration of emergency terminate," said Stephen Warner, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.

Ontario to gradually reopen DriveTest centres 

The Ontario government announced Thursday that its driver testing provider, DriveTest, will begin reopening across the province beginning June 22, with the goal of fully restoring services by September. 

According to a statement issued Thursday, all 56 full-time centres will begin offering limited services on Monday for G1 and M1 knowledge tests, driver's licence exchanges and commercial driver's licence applications and upgrades.

Commercial road tests will also be available by appointment at 28 locations across Ontario.

To reduce crowding and support new requirements for physical distancing, the province says customers will be served based on when they were born. 

People with birthdays between January and June will be allowed to visit a centre during the first week of reopening, while those with birthdays between July and December will have to wait until the following week.

Access to those services will continue to alternate weekly until services are fully restored. 

"By resuming driver testing in a phased, staggered approach, important health and safety measures, such as physical distancing and extensive cleaning, can be maintained," Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said in the statement. 

With files from Lucas Powers