Manitoba health minister says ‘now is the time’ to sign up for federal COVID Alert app

The Manitoba government plans to sign up to use the federal government’s COVID-19 exposure tracing app, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Monday.

The Health Canada COVID Alert app launched in Ontario over the summer, but since then only three other provinces have joined the initiative: Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Friesen said during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing that the province plans to layout more details some time this week regarding the app. If Manitoba signs up, it will be the fifth province or territory to do so.

“Now is the time to download that COVID alert application. You can do that today, and later this week [the province will] be turning that on and allowing it to have effect [in Manitoba],” said Friesen.

“This doesn’t replace anything that we do conventionally in contact tracing. That work will continue to be the centre of the efforts going forward, to be able to make sure that we’re getting the knowledge of who has COVID-19 and who is at risk.”

WATCH | Health minister encourages Manitobans to download federal COVID-19 app

The federal COVID-19 alert app is set to come online in Manitoba this week, said Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen on Monday. It will alert Manitobans if they’ve come into contact with an active case, while preserving anonymity and privacy, said Friesen. 0:58

COVID Alert does not use GPS to track users’ locations and will not access a person’s name, address, phone contacts or health information, according to the government of Canada website.

Instead, random codes are exchanged every five minutes between smartphones with the alert app via Bluetooth.

The app estimates how close people are based on the strength of Bluetooth signals it is receiving. If a user is closer than two metres for than 15 minutes over a two week period, the app records that as an exposure, the website says.

Each person who uses the app receives a key code from their local health-care provider that can only be used once. The code is meant to be used if a user tests positive for COVID-19.

In that situation, the person can type in that code and upload the random codes their phone sent to a central server.

Each day, the app checks the server to see if any of its codes match ones sent to its user’s phone. If there’s a match, the user will get a notification saying they’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and details on what to do next, the website says.

The app is voluntary to use. But in order for it to have any significant impact in helping with contact tracing in Manitoba, around 60 per cent or more of the population has to use it, Friesen said. 

The move for Manitoba to join the app comes as the number of known COVID-19 cases continues rising steadily, especially in the capital city.

There were 169 cases of COVID-19 found in the province over the weekend, and another 39 were found as of Monday morning.

There are 618 known active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba as of Monday morning, including 512 in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg is now under code orange restrictions. People aged five and up must wear masks at all indoor public places, and all gatherings have a 10-person limit. Gatherings on private property can have 10 people plus the people living at the residence.

Those restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks — or two incubation periods.

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