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Alberta will switch over to federal COVID-19 notification app

Alberta will switch from its provincial COVID-19 notification app to the national app.

The move, first reported by the Globe and Mail, was confirmed to CBC News by a spokesperson for the province’s health minister on Saturday.

Alberta’s contact tracing mobile app, ABTraceTogether, was unveiled on May 1. It was the first of its kind to be unveiled in Canada and was based on a similar app used in Singapore. 

The application uses Bluetooth technology to determine if a user has come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and notify them, so they can self-isolate and prevent further spread of the virus.

But the app had technical difficulties, like the fact that it doesn’t function on iPhones unless the app is open and the phone is unlocked.

In mid-July, Premier Jason Kenney accused the federal government of preventing Alberta from working with Apple and Google to fix the app’s problems. But Ottawa said that was because its national app was in the works. That app, COVID Alert, was launched on July 31 for the province of Ontario, with other provinces to come. 

Apple and Google have said they are restricting use of their technology to one app per country, to avoid creating a patchwork of apps and to promote their use.  

The spokesperson for Alberta’s health minister said details are yet to be confirmed as to how the app will be adopted in the province. 

But the federal COVID Alert website said it encourages those outside of Ontario to download the app, so when people in their area are able to report a diagnosis, users will be notified if they were nearby. 

The website also states that COVID Alert is voluntary, and does not track a user’s location or collect personal information. The federal privacy commissioner’s office was consulted on its development. 

It uses Bluetooth technology, and runs in the background of a phone. If two people are within two metres of each other for more than 15 minutes, the app records a potential exposure. If someone with the app is diagnosed with COVID-19, they can choose to record that in the app. The app would then notify people that person came into contact with — without telling the users who the person was who tested positive. 

Alberta’s app had 234,462 registered users as of Thursday, or about five per cent of the province’s population. More than 1.18 million Canadians had downloaded the federal app as of Aug. 2. 

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