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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Ottawa reveals new contact tracing app, plans to transition CERB recipients to EI

Friday, July 31, 2020 @ 3:20 PM | By Ian Burns

Ontarians now have the ability to find out if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the contact exposure app, COVID Alert, at his July 31 press conference. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will receive a one-time key from their health authority, which they can enter into the app in order to notify other users who may have come into close contact with them for at least 15 minutes in the past two weeks. Health authorities in Ontario will be the first to begin distributing one-time keys, and Ottawa is currently working with the other provinces and territories to bring their jurisdictions on board in the coming weeks and months.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

“While we have made good progress over the past few months, COVID-19 remains a very serious threat to the health of Canadians,” said Trudeau, who emphasized use of the app was voluntary. “As we continue to gradually restart our economy, innovative technologies like this new app will help us keep our families and communities safe and healthy.”

COVID Alert, which is available as a free download from the App Store or the Google Play Store, does not track a user’s location or collect personally identifiable information, and the codes are automatically deleted after 15 days. Federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said the app includes “very significant privacy protections,” and his Ontario counterpart Patricia Kosseim said it could be an important tool to help control the spread of the virus in Ontario.

“I support the use of exposure notification technology to help control the spread of COVID-19, provided it is used in the way it’s been designed to respect the privacy of Ontarians,” she said. “This app will only work if people trust their personal information will be protected and choose to use the technology. Based on our review of the app and acceptance of our recommendations, I am satisfied that there are strong measures built in to help protect individual privacy.”

In addition to introducing the app, Trudeau also revealed at his press conference that the government was working to transition recipients of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to the employment insurance (EI) system, with a transitional parallel benefit set up for those who don’t qualify for EI, such as gig or contract workers. The details of the system will be revealed in the weeks ahead, he added, and will include a sickness and caregivers benefit for Canadians not covered at work if they get COVID-19 or they have to take care of a relative who has the virus.

“Here is the bottom line — we intend to cover every Canadian who is looking for work with a better, 21st century EI system,” he said. “And of course, there will be no increase to EI premiums during this challenging time.”

Trudeau also announced an investment of approximately $59 million to protect the health and safety of migrant workers on Canadian farms. He said the money will help fund more farm inspections, provide emergency relief when needed and improve the overall living conditions on farms.

“We are also looking at ways to improve the temporary foreign worker program as a whole,” he said. “This includes measures like developing mandatory requirements for better living conditions for workers so we can continue to help support the people that put food on our plates.”

More information about COVID Alert can be found here.

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