New mobile app meant to help track COVID-19 in Ontario delayed
TORONTO -- A promised mobile contact tracing app meant to help prepare Ontario for “a potential second wave” of COVID-19 in the fall will not be launched today as planned.
In a statement issued on Thursday, a spokesperson for the minister of health confirmed the new app is not yet available to users. The spokesperson said that the provincial government is working with federal partners and that they “expect it to launch shortly.”
No reason was provided for the delay and no alternative date for the launch was given.
The mobile app was announced in mid-June as part of a wider contact tracing strategy. Ontario was meant to be the first province to test the app in July before it was eventually made available nationwide.
Speaking on Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that Ontario "is ready to go" with the app. He suggested that the federal government may be holding off in order to get more provinces onboard.
"I think it's ready to go," Ford said. "I think they just need to get other provinces on side but we are good."
"I understand there is a little problem giving provinces the right to …communicate with the providers."
Ford has previously said that the app will act “like a protective shield around us, to a certain degree” and urged residents to download the app when it becomes available.
"We need people to download this app – it’s going to protect us, it’s going to protect our families."
The COVID Alert app, when it is launched, will use Bluetooth technology to notify other users if they have come in contact with someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. It will also allow users to contact their local public health unit by submitting a form through the app.
Officials have stressed that no personal data will be collected from users through the app.
Are there other options?
While the province's application has yet to be launched, iPhone and Android phones already have the underlying software required to allow contact tracing to take place.
The latest software updates from Apple and Google added new privacy settings to the Bluetooth function called "COVID-19 exposure logging" which, when enabled, allows phones to exchange "random IDs with other devices using Bluetooth.”
"This enables an app to notify you if you may have been exposed to COVID-19," according to Apple's description of the new setting.
While phones currently have the ability to keep a log of all exposures, the function cannot be turned on unless an authorized app -- COVID Alert for example -- is installed on the phone