Provinces aren't using COVID Alert app properly or widely enough, says report

·3 min read
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been one of the most prominent supporters of the COVID Alert app and frequently promotes its use during televised pandemic updates. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been one of the most prominent supporters of the COVID Alert app and frequently promotes its use during televised pandemic updates. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The federal government is urging the provinces to use its COVID Alert app properly and more widely after a new report said that only five per cent of those who have tested positive for the virus have been given the information required to register their results.

An interim report from a federal advisory council said that while the app has been downloaded more than 6.3 million times, only 20,000 people have entered the one-time key that lets the app know they have the virus.

The federal government launched the voluntary COVID Alert app in July. It's designed to notify users when they have been exposed to another user that has tested positive for COVID-19.

Once someone has tested positive, the provincial public health authority is supposed to issue that person a one-time key. Once the key is entered into the app, it sends notifications to other app users who have been within two metres of the infected person for 15 minutes or more.

The report says that once people are given the one-time key, they enter it into the app only 80 per cent of the time.

"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 Health Minister Patty Hajdu in a media statement.

The report identifies the lacklustre distribution of one-time keys as one of two problems preventing the app from achieving its potential. The second problem is that not enough Canadians have downloaded the app.

"We therefore urge the Government of Canada and its partners across provinces and territories to continue to expand the availability of COVID Alert to residents so that they may benefit and protect others," the report said.

More provinces needed

The report goes on to say that use of the app — which is compatible with 98 per cent of smartphones — is more important at this stage of the pandemic than it was at the outset because the provinces have responded so differently to the crisis.

"Before tools like this were available, Canadians demonstrated collective effort to limit the spread. As regions diverge in their approach to managing the pandemic, we call on Canadians to once again show the common resolve and download COVID Alert," the report said.

As a first step, the report is asking Alberta, B.C., Nunavut and Yukon — which have not adopted the COVID Alert app yet — to do so.

The report is also urging the federal government to make the app available in languages other than English and French.

The report said that according to Statistics Canada, about two per cent of Canadians do not speak one of Canada's official languages. The report said that adding more languages would help engage with other linguistic communities, such as the 610,835 people who say Mandarin is their mother tongue.

The federal government said it welcomed the recommendations and would work to ensure the app is as effective as possible.

"We thank the Advisory Council for their guidance on the COVID Alert exposure notification app," said Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

"We look forward to their ongoing advice and recommendations for improving this important public health tool and call on Canadians to download COVID Alert on your mobile phones, and do your part to keep our communities safe."