Contact tracing needs to balance public health benefits with privacy: Trudeau

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is leaving the door open to using digital technology to limit the spread of COVID-19 through contact tracing.

But he says there is a need to balance the public health benefits of such initiatives with protecting the privacy of Canadians.

Countries such as South Korea and Singapore have used cellphones and other digital technology to track people’s movements and warn about potential contacts with individuals who have COVID-19 to slow the spread of the virus.

A number of provinces have since suggested they are looking at voluntary programs to conduct contact tracing, which is usually performed by public health officials.

But Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says that in addition to privacy concerns, the technology itself remains unproven and will need to be refined to ensure false warnings and other issues do not emerge.

Tam says such technology could make it easier to manage the spread of COVID-19, but it should ultimately complement the work of public health officials, not replace it.