Canadians can now download new COVID-19 exposure-alert smartphone app

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OTTAWA — Canadians can now begin downloading a voluntary smartphone app meant to warn users they’ve been near someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he downloaded the “COVID Alert” app Friday morning and said the more people who sign up to use it, the better it will be able to trace — and help to slow — the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Health experts say that if enough people sign up, this app can help prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19 in Canada,” Trudeau said Friday in Ottawa during a visit to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The app is designed to track the location of phones relative to each other, without collecting personal data anywhere centrally, using digital identifications unique to each device.

Then users can be notified if their phones have recently been near the phone of a person who later volunteers that they have tested positive for COVID-19.

The app will then encourage users to call their provincial health services for advice on what to do next.

“I want to be clear: this app isn’t mandatory. It’s completely voluntary to download and to use,” Trudeau said. “And it doesn’t collect your name, address, geolocation, or other personal information.”

Trudeau said the app is currently linked to the Ontario health system, but anyone in Canada can begin using it today and more provinces are joining it soon.

He said the Atlantic provinces will be the next to link their health systems to the app and the federal government is in talks with other provinces too.