The federal government ‘quit’ quietly with the COVID Alert app months ago due to low recording

The revelation from Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister comes as the country struggles with a massive number of new COVID-19 infections led by the Omicron variant

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OTTAWA – The federal government quietly “abandoned” its COVID Alert contact tracking app and stopped supporting it months ago because of its “low” recording, say Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister.

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“The federal government abandoned the COVID Alerts app some time ago, several months before Christmas,” said Dr. John Haggie to reporters on Wednesday in response to a question about whether the province had abandoned the use of the application.

“In fact, they stopped supporting it and they stopped updating their dashboard. The uptake was so low that the effort to maintain these sites was unreasonable given the fact that it provided so little,” he added. .

His revelation comes as the country struggles with a massive number of new COVID-19 infections led by the Omicron variant, the most transmissible to date. On Wednesday, Canada reported nearly 25,000 new cases, with Quebec (13,149), Ontario (10,436) and Manitoba (947) all reporting one-day registrations.

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In light of the staggering number of new cases, many public health authorities have announced that they are unable to continue contact tracking for everyone and instead ask people who test positive to notify those they have seen while potentially contagious. .

It is in situations like this where COVID Alert would have shone most clearly, but the latest statistics from Health Canada show that the app has almost gone out of use.

Although the application is still running, in November just under 3.1 million phones were actively running the COVID Alert app, which is less than half the total number of downloads (6.7 million) since its launch a year and a half ago. It also means that less than 10 percent of the Canadian population currently uses the application.

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The app was used to report potential exposures only 869 times in November, despite the country reporting over 70,000 cases during the month.

The application was available in most provinces except British Columbia and Alberta, which never signed up for the Ottawa program. But last week, the Toronto Star reported that Nova Scotia has since stopped handing out the one-time keys that people who test positive for COVID-19 use to warn others of potential exposures.

Asked about Haggie’s comments on Wednesday, Health Canada said it still supports the application and that it continues to update an online dashboard with COVID Alert statistics every month.

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But both Google and Apple’s app stores show that the COVID Alert app has not received a single update since August and September, respectively. Prior to that, the application was updated once or twice a month since its launch in July 2020.

Derek Ruths, associate professor of computer science at McGill University and a member of the government’s independent COVID Alert app advisory board until it was dissolved last summer, says poor uptake in the country’s largest provinces means the overall effect of the app has been “muted” . . “

In fact, a paper he co-authored and published earlier this year noted that Canada’s application had one of the lowest adoption rates compared to the similar service in eight other countries such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy.

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Two other issues he noted are how late the app was launched (July 2020, four months after the pandemic began) and how difficult it could be in some provinces for users who tested positive to get a key code needed for to warn other users of a possible exposure.

In some cases, people reported having to wait two hours with their local public health organization to receive a key instead of having it sent to them automatically after their positive COVID-19 test.

His research also estimated that the app had helped avert what is equivalent to only one to three percent of all the country’s confirmed cases and deaths between March 3 and July 15, 2021. That equates to up to 10,894 cases and 101 averted deaths .

However, that percentage increased markedly in provinces where COVID Alert was more prevalent, such as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I think we have a lot of strong evidence pointing to the fact that COVID Alert … has the capacity to be quite effective,” Ruths said in an interview Wednesday.

“Did the app fail? No, I do not think the app failed. Did it reveal further problems with bureaucracy in the government? Yes,” he added with a laugh. Absolutely.”

• Email: cnardi@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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