Alberta to launch Canada’s first contact tracing app as economy slowly reopens


WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – The Canadian province of Alberta said on Friday it would soon launch the country’s first phone app to trace contacts of people infected with the coronavirus, as the country slowly restarts its economy.

Ontario, the most populous province, said it was looking at options for such apps.

Increased contact tracing and testing are key parts of plans to reopen economies that have largely closed to slow the pandemic’s spread, with no proven vaccine or treatment available.

Privacy advocates in Britain have urged the government to prevent a soon-to-be-launched app from turning into a form of state surveillance.

“We’re looking at some of these apps for now, for contact tracing, but also for the future, for the benefit of our healthcare system,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliot told reporters.

Alberta was scheduled to announce its plans for the app, called AB TraceTogether, late afternoon on Friday. It became the latest province this week to announce a phased plan to reopen services and businesses.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday said it would be important to ensure privacy and data security are balanced with the need for more information on the virus’s spread. He said there are a number of proposals in development that might apply to Canada.

Alberta has the third-highest case count in Canada – 10% of the national total – but also one of Canada’s most aggressive testing programs. Many of its cases are due to outbreaks in meat plants and nursing homes.

Canada’s death toll rose less than 5% on Friday to 3,223 deaths, while cases climbed to nearly 54,000, as daily numbers continue to flatten.

The province of Quebec, the country’s virus epicenter, said it has started ramping up testing ahead of a plan to begin reopening businesses and schools this month. Testing will prioritize hospital patients with symptoms, health-care workers, nursing home staff and residents, Quebec public health director Horacio Arruda said.

“The more we test, the more we find,” he told reporters.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Leslie Adler