The federal government’s COVID Alert app has been taken offline.
With the COVID-19 pandemic easing in Canada, Ottawa moved on Friday to shut down its exposure notification app that was launched early in the pandemic.
COVID Alert came online on July 31, 2020 – many months before Canadians began to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It was created to help limit the spread of the novel virus, but it was criticized as being ineffective.
More than 6.9 million people living in Canada downloaded the app, and more than 57,000 users who tested positive for COVID-19 notified others of a possible exposure, the government said on Friday.
“While the pandemic is not over, the decision to decommission COVID Alert comes after careful consideration following discussions with provinces and territories on the ongoing evolution of public health programming that varies in each jurisdiction,” Health Canada said in a news release.
“Furthermore, over the last few months, with less PCR testing across Canada, fewer one-time keys were being issued and therefore fewer notifications of potential exposures were sent to users resulting in lower app usage.”
Majority of Canadians are not using the COVID Alert app
When the app was unveiled, it was promoted by Ottawa as an important tool for Canadians to have in the fight against COVID-19.
It was designed to be simple: When people were near each other, their phones would exchange and record anonymous numeric codes so that if a person using the app ever became sick with COVID-19, an alert could be sent to every phone that had recorded being near that phone and the phone’s owner could take appropriate health precautions.
To be able to send an alert, an infected user needed to obtain a one-time special code from a provincial health authority after testing positive on a PCR test, which have since become rare given changes in testing policies this year.
“Download the COVID Alert app. It’s easy. It’s free. It will help you do your part to protect your friends and loved ones,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in October 2020.
The app struggled to find its footing in Canada, and its usage dropped significantly in 2021, according to data obtained by Global News at the time.
Attempts by the federal government to build in some new functionality were abandoned largely because the needed provincial partners shrugged their shoulders in disinterest at the idea of employing any resources to improve the app, Global News reported.
British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon and Nunavut never signed on, often citing technical difficulties.
During a public health emergency, it’s important for innovation to take place, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters on Friday.
“Not all innovations might work in different populations, but I think it is good there was a good go at trying to utilize another tool in the current era of apps to try and protect the population,” she said.
In its announcement Friday, Health Canada said the country today is “better equipped” to manage COVID-19 and ease pressures on the health-care system.
“Vaccination continues to be one of the most effective tools to protect ourselves, those around us, our health-care system and our economy. Everyone in Canada is encouraged to keep up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including booster doses,” it said.
“We encourage everyone to stay aware of COVID-19 activity in their local area, stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, including getting booster doses, and continue to take personal precautions including staying home if sick, improving ventilation and continuing to wear masks when with people in shared indoor or crowded spaces.”
COVID Alert cost $20 million, with $15.9 million spent on promotion and advertising, and another $3.5 million on developing and maintaining it.
— with files from Global News’ David Akin and The Canadian Press
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